Monday, August 31, 2015

Miyajima deer are not timid deer

shadow deer

Our destination after Kyoto was Hiroshima. Although we only had one night / two half days to spend there, we decided to head to the nearby island of Miyajima for the afternoon as soon as we arrived in Hiroshima.

Itsukushima shrine gate

Miyajima is known as a very beautiful place and a holy place - the whole island is considered sacred and in Shinto is actually considered to be the body of God.

gate & water


There certainly was beauty and serenity to be found there.




Also, deer again! And if we thought the Nara deer were pretty tame, those on Miyajima were cheeky and even potentially aggressive.

Deer feeding

Obviously, if you have food for them, they crowd in.

Deer food

They're completely comfortable mingling really closely with the humans.

not shy deer

I was standing, talking with Mum, when I felt something tugging on my bag. My sister was quick with the camera and caught this deer in the act, stealing my MAP!

deer thief

As I moved my hand to the outer pocket of the bag, the deer pulled away, munching on half of the map. You can just see the last of it disappearing in the deer's mouth, in the photo below. I managed to keep the other half of the map. I think it makes a memorable souvenir. At this point Mum mentioned she had seen a warning somewhere that the deer like to eat paper. I guess they probably shouldn't, though.

deer munching map

This deer must have really liked that half-map. The cheeky bugger followed me along the street. I was starting to wonder if this deer was going to tail me for my whole visit on the island, and I was getting a bit I did a rapid u-turn and was relieved to find it had taken an interest in someone else.

The one in the photo below was just hanging out, not too close to people, minding its own business. Suddenly a stupid person came past and slapped it on the hindquarters. It sprang towards us in shock, but luckily calmed down quickly.


It was a hot dry day and many of the deer made a speciality of lying around, posing majestically.

casual deer


So the deer gave us a bit of entertainment and were lovely to photograph, but even apart from them, the island itself was well worth the visit. It's quite hilly and as soon as we started to climb up away from the hot dusty shore there was lots of peaceful and green spaces. My sister and I couldn't resist a taking our shoes off and sitting by a stream with our feet in the cool water. I'm pretty sure that was not really the done thing and we did get a few amused looks from people crossing the nearby bridge. Although there were many tourists dressed casually in shorts and other summer gear, we also saw many Japanese people dressed reasonably formally, like it was a Sunday stroll to church. I hope we didn't seriously offend with our feet in the water.

resting in Toyokuni Shrine

And there was this place. I loved spending time in the massive hall of Toyokuni shrine, an incredibly calm and soothing space to take some time to rest. Right behind it was a flashy five-storey pagoda: but I found this building much more compelling.

Toyokuni shrine, Miyajima

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Off to Nara to see the deer


Our last Kyoto day was earmarked for a daytrip to Canberra's sister city, Nara. That was about all I knew about Nara, but my sister told me the main draw was a large park with lots of deer, and that sounded pretty good.

deer sculpture

We arrived late in the morning and pretty soon we were ready for lunch, so the first stop was the tiny okonomiyaki place. Then we headed a few blocks off the main tourist trail to try to find the Nara Craft Museum on our way to the park. We got a bit confused. I think we had one of those maps that only shows main streets, not smaller lanes. But the wandering was all made worthwhile when we came across a definitely not tourist-oriented, genuinely cheap op (thrift) shop where everything seemed to be about 100yen. We did find the craft museum after that, and with it our first two deer (above) for the day.


I think we took the longest possible walking route to get into the park. But it was worth it when we got there. It rained lightly on and off all day, but it wasn't cold, and we had a fun time exploring the large and very beautiful park, and admiring the many deer.

P6110748 park deer

There were heaps of deer everywhere and they are obviously used to being in close proximity to humans.

deer road

Plenty of deer poo on the paths, too.

deer poo

I can see why people fall so in love, aesthetically, with Japan. Even the drains are beautiful, or at least pleasingly arranged.

pretty drain

And below, one of the fanciest manhole covers I saw - not in the park but back in town - features one of Nara's pretty deer.

Nara deer design




stripe deer


Due to our 'long way round' approach to Nara Park, we only came across this warning about deer dangers on our way out. I'm plesaed to report we made it all the way through the park without experiencing Bite, Kick, Butt, or Knock down. I decided that kangaroos are more scary.

deer warning

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Kimonos in Kyoto

dressed up

Back to the Japan trip. (I should clarify, I've been home for weeks now, just enjoying going through the photos and remembering all we did and saw.)

Even after the day of too much walking, we headed out walking for the morning again! This time we were a bit better targeted. We went through a street or two which used a real centre of ceramics production and still has a few great pottery shops. As we wandered through this hilly district there were other artisans shops as well, and several shrines (particularly higher in the hills) and touristy souvenir shops to go with them. Including kimono hire, kimono sales and some fabric too - old kimono fabric scraps was one of our shopping targets.


I really enjoyed all the pattern mixing I saw in the pairing of kimonos with obis. Oh, this is a shop dummy, not a headless person! Perhaps I could have framed this shot better...


Once we were wandering around Kyoto we started seeing these fellows everywhere. Tanuki is a welcoming and wealth-bringing icon but he has evolved from something that was originally more evil and scary, from older Chinese fox folklore. The reason we couldn't work out what animal he is (badger-ish chipmunk?) is because he is a combination of several elements and has changed over time. I can tell you his large scrotum symbolises both expanding wealth and luck with money. Perhaps you didn't really want to know that, but now you do. There is lots more to know about Tanuki, including that there is also a kind of native dog with the same name. 


And why have one Tanuki on the doorstep when you can have three!

cloud and drops

Camera talk interlude: after my only lens developed a problem a year and a half ago I moved on from my Canon 40D to something smaller and lighter, a 'mirrorless' (micro four-thirds) format. I settled on an Olympus (OMD EM5) with a kit lens and never looked back. I like the photos just as much and it's so much easier to carry around. And then just before we went to Japan I finally chose a prime lens - 25mm - and I love it SO MUCH. Its low-light performance is amazing. I still carried my zoom lens around Japan but never bothered to put it on. Using a prime was interesting and the limitation to one length not difficult to get used to at all - I think I managed to pick a sweet spot for me and the kind of pictures I like to take. I only occasionally felt too close, and I almost never missed having more zoom (often you can just walk closer).


Another stone wall. Boring? I never get sick of them.

stone wall

Later in the morning, on the way to meet an acquaintance for lunch at the Kyoto National Museum, we stopped at a packed vintage clothes/fabric/junk stall on the main road near the museum. My mum and sister both found treasures they wished to purchase and so we waited ...and waited (I ended up perching on a wall and knitting) for someone to come out and sell us things. We called out. Nothing, Eventually Mum and I went on to the museum. My sis came on a bit later, still having had no luck.  Very strange. She was actually starting to imagine that the person who should be there might be injured or sick. After the museum visit we went back and did some more waiting. A passerby stopped to help, and she noticed a sign we had missed, with a phone number. Finally the shopkeeper was roused from somewhere (out back? upstairs?) and came out to take our money.

Nomura bear

After that, my sister continued with some wandering on her own. Mum and I had shopping plans back in town but as the shops tend to be open later (at least til 7 or 8 - maybe this is a summer thing?) we first went back to the ryokan for a bit of downtime. Then we were off to Nomura Fabric Store - home of the bear - and a few blocks over to Avril for me. We had a little trouble finding it and got there 20 minutes before closing. And I had no real idea what I was walking into.

Avril entry

Avril! It's a beautiful store in an old building with very solid wooden floors and staircase. I walked in and all I could see was cones of yarn on all of the walls. I had little time and didn't know have the first idea what all the cones were about. (Yarn for knitting is usually in hanks, skeins or balls. It's not a hard and fast rule of course but cones would more often be finer yarn for weaving).


All the walls looked much like this!

kit cardie

I don't usually take much interest in kits, but a kit was my saviour here. I fumbled through a rack of samples and tried on this cardigan. I don't normally think a long cardigan works for me but this seemed to play interestingly with my outfit. Note, there is a dark section at the bottom - it's much longer than it may look at first glance. I think I will need to adjust it a bit, making it a little shorter overall and bringing up the change between colours a bit higher too. But I still want it to be a longline cardigan as that is something different for me.

You can't really tell in this photo but the lighter colour in the kit was a pale greenish hue that wasn't very appealing to me. (I know, it just looks like oatmeal in the photo).

My own yarn

When I showed interest in the kit, the staff started to help me choose yarn. And here is where I got really confused. The ladies working there were really lovely and helpful - and they didn't speak English. I grasped that the yarn was a silk, cotton and linen blend. So why was I was being shown shade cards for separate silk, cotton and linen fibres? Was it not a blend, but a choice of one of these fibres? Finally after much patient miming, the walls of cones suddenly made sense. I was to choose three plys in any combination of colours and they would put them all together on a cone for me!

At this point I was super excited and also under pressure! I knew they had to close the shop, I knew we needed dinner (probably about an hour ago, really). I had to choose colours quickly and I never would have got there without Mum's help. She was very cool-headed for a hungry person. It was her brilliant idea to tie the two colour blocks together by including one teal strand in the lighter top section. I think it will be great. Winding up the yarn took no time (pic above) and then we just had to choose a button.

And now I just need to figure out how to interpret the Japanese pattern. One of the lovely Avril ladies did translate a few key words on the pattern for me. I know lots of people knit from Japanese books without actually knowing the language (thanks to the schematics commonly used and knowing just a few key terms). And if all else fails I might have to adapt a similar pattern to work with this yarn instead.

button choosing

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Two baby vests

pengin vest 2

I used to knit cardigans for babies: recently I've switched to vests. They seem to have potential to fit for bit longer and also might be useful for a greater part of the year. Being a bit quicker to knit may also be a bonus...though the pattern I used as the basis for this penguin number, 'Viggo' from Drops Design, was actually really fiddly in the finishing stages. It has you pick up six separate sections of ribbing! Cute result but I really think it's a bit excessive for such a tiny garment.

The penguins are a repeat of these. I knew they'd come in handy again.

penguin floats

I'm pretty happy with the wrong side. I've learned to keep the stitches much looser than normal when doing colourwork. The soft white baby yarn does let the darker blur show through a bit on the right side, though. I keep doing these things in baby wool (very soft 4ply merinos) when more robust wool would probably work better.

red baby vest

And this one is 'What Big Eyes You Have!' by Georgie Hallam. An excellent pattern. Also a little bit fiddly but actually not as much as the other one. It uses a top down saddle shoulder construction so the cast on and set up stages were a bit unusual. I think it was worth it and I'll be using this one again.

blue buttons

The tweedy wool is Cleckheaton Country Naturals, not exotic but an old favourite. Actually I was looking for one of those fun kids' yarns (something like the old Magic Garden 'Buttons') and I liked the contrasting bright colours in this. I don't think I've knit in 8ply for babies before. It's pretty quick and satisfying.

vest cable

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Our first full day in Kyoto was the Day of (Too) Much Walking

Yes indeed, later in the day some bikes would have been wonderful.

From where we were staying, we saw it was quite easy to walk into town. That was very pleasant. We spent a little time in the cat cafe, while Mum went for a walk instead.

Japan is a land of very many vending machines. Everywhere you look. Not just cold drinks but often beer, very often machines with a multitude of canned coffees, though we were disappointed never to find the famed coffee can that heats up the coffee for you. Plenty of cigarette machines too. So are the kids just too well-behaved to take advantage? I don't get it.

vege cafe
We stumbled on a very nice vegetarian cafe for lunch. (Vegetarian! Such a surprise) Their burger was fantastic, one of the best I've ever had. Vegetarian burgers are often so disappointing. Also, see those boxes on the floor near the chairs? Lots of cafes and restaurants have those - they are for putting your bags in. How civilised.

We continued to admire lots of greenery.

writing shop



castle yard
A few more blocks of walking finally got us to Nijo Castle, latish in the afternoon. We were only there just in time to get into the Ninomaru Palace before they stopped allowing people in (once you are in you have to walk a whole circuit inside the building, which takes a decent amount of time). Sadly no photos were allowed inside - below is a little taste, from outside. It was very well preserved and being immersed for a time, you could get a bit of a feeling of what it might have been like there in the Edo period. It has the nightingale floors that squeak to warn of someone sneaking in.


Then we enjoyed wandering the gardens

Crossing moats and admiring the angled stone walls

angle wall
I can't get enough of those stone walls

Climbing up to high ground


for a view, before we were herded out as closing time approached.

Having been walking almost all day thus far, we decided to jump on a bus across the city to get closer to the Gion district where we were staying. It was a nice bonus to be able to use our Tokyo Pasmo cards from the metro, on the Kyoto buses. But we probably should have chosen the bus more carefully. Where we got off was still a long walk from home.

road rabbits
At first this was ok, we were walking in the right direction and still seeing interesting sights. These ridiculously cute rabbit traffic barriers are actually nothing very special in Japan - totally standard roadworks furniture. It really is impossible to imagine anything like this being used seriously in Australia. Unthinkable.

Actually there wasn't the overwhelming amount of cute stuff I sort of feared in Japan. But there was evidence everywhere of attention given to the design of things, making utilitarian things look pleasant and harmonious. Drain/sewer covers are an obvious and quite well-known example. The Kyoto one below is actually very plain compared to some.

Kyoto drain

As we walked and walked, there was some doubting of the direction, much consulting of maps, some turned out we were never lost exactly, it was just a very long wander.... and maybe we should have packed a spare boiled egg or two.

Finally we knew we were back in our neighbourhood and could look for somewhere to have dinner. We were all a little bit hangry by this point.

And the evening was redeemed when we stumbled upon another, quite different, yet amazing, Kyoto dining experience. A tiny bistro with just a counter to sit at, with six? maybe eight? seats. Just the one man running the place and doing all the cooking, serving, cleaning, taking our orders with little/no English  but impressive efficiency and calm. The food was fantastic and this tempura, well, I think actually it was as good, just about, as the expensive one the night before.

second best tempura