Kyoto by the sea & wearing a kimono

Thursday 1st February

Today we participated in a newly constructed day tour of Kyoto by the sea, which was skilfully led by the knowledgeable Keiji Nagase. We met at town hall once again, before setting off to Kyoto by the sea, which was about an hour away from Yosano. On the way, we stopped at Tenki Tenki Tango, a toll road service station in Kyotango city. We visited an information centre for the San’ in Kalgan UNESCO Global Geopark, which is home to a number of geological sites related to the formation of the Sea of Japan. We were given a talk about the highlights of the geopark, including the infamous ‘singing sand’; a type of sand which squeaks loudly when walked on, due to the unique size and interactions of the sand particles.

The geopark is also home to Tateiwa Rock, a famous landmark which is over fifteen million years old, and about forty metres in height, and we drove for a few minutes to see the rock in person. The view was breath-taking; the rock was situated on an inaccessible part of the beach, surrounded by sand and snow. We stopped to take in the surrounding beauty, before moving on to the next part of the tour.

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We then visited The Ancient Tango Village Museum, a local museum which displayed exhibits relating to the Japanese Tango culture. Here we got to experience their traditions – I discovered a new talent from playing the Ocarina, an ancient wind musical instrument made from a hollow rock. We discovered an interactive section of the museum, where you were encouraged to try out the Tango native dress, which Marged and I enthusiastically experimented with. After purchasing a ridiculous number of Ocarinas between the six of us, it was time to leave, so we made our way back to the car, and drove for about half an hour before reaching our next destination.

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We arrived at Tamiya Raden mid-morning, where we were given the opportunity to explore their mother-of-pearl inlay workshop. Although we were initially unsure of what to expect, this was actually one of my personal highlights of the trip; we got to observe the complex process of designing and making objects using the specific Raden fabric technique, which derives directly from the local culture of the Tango region. Tamiya Raden inlays gold, silver and mother-of-pearl to the surface of washi paper, which is then cut into fine strips and woven on a handloom – the final product is used for traditional Japanese costumes, clothing and accessories, and the likes of Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior have been known to use their designs. We got to experience each stage of the process, from the initial hand drawn designs beings transposed onto a computer, to the weaving workshop where the designs materialised. We were told that each item took around a month to complete and could be sold for millions of yen per item. Before we knew it, it was time to leave, and we headed back to the car in awe of the sheer talent we had just witnessed.

We stopped momentarily to speak to the local postman, who was delivering the town’s post on his motorbike (despite the several feet of snow). We asked the rather amused postman if we could take a picture with him, before setting off on our way again to the next stop of the morning.

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Before lunch, we stopped at the Kotohira Shrine, a Shinto shrine whose main purpose is to hold religious objects, as opposed to being a place of religious worship. Accordingly, we were taught how to make a traditional wish (rather than how to pray), which was a lovely aspect of culture to experience. We threw a small amount of yen into the shrine, preferably one of the smaller denomination coins which have holes in the middle (as these are considered lucky), before ringing the bell to alert the shrine “guards” that you were about to make a wish. You were then supposed to bow twice, followed by two claps, before you could make your wish. We did this one by one, and there was something very magical about the whole experience. We then headed to Asano Shokudo to have some well-deserved lunch – I had chicken, with rice and salad, and we watched a traditional Japanese television drama whilst reflecting on our morning.

After lunch, we walked a short distance to the Onojin Soy Sauce Company, a local village shop who made and sold their own soy sauce and miso products. Although the family did not speak any English, we were very touched to see that they had gone to the effort of researching basic words and greetings in Welsh. We were given a talk on the process of making each product, which consists of the fermentation of soy beans, before doing a blind taste test of their three best-selling soy sauces, kakemurasaki, koimurasaki and koidashimurasaki. The majority of the group favoured koimurasaki, a soy sauce designed to be used on all types of food, and I bought a few bottles of this as a souvenir for both my home-stay family and my real family! We had a bit of free time before leaving, so Marged and I taught the family how to pronounce the Welsh words and greetings the family and researched, which was a very humbling experience.

We then made our way to the old house of the Bito family, which was a beautifully ornate traditional Japanese house located in the Kaya area of Yosano. We had been really looking forward to this part of the trip, as this was when we were to experience wearing the traditional Japanese kimono. We arrived at the house, where each of us met our kimono sensei, village elders who had kindly agreed to help us for the afternoon. The ladies had already assigned a kimono to each student, based on a photograph of us they had received in advance, and we were all delighted with their choices. We were amazed at the number of steps entailed in putting on a kimono; they are worn with an obi (a form of sash) around the waist, which is tied into an intricate bow once the kimono is on correctly. I was assigned a pale peach kimono, with a black and gold obi, which I loved. Once we were dressed, we had a mini photo-shoot around the old house, which was a lovely way to end the day.

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