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 blue 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

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Absolutely not a gourmet's guide to Japan

But more about the food.

green cheesecake
So many different things are available in green tea (matcha) flavour. This baked cheesecake was worth a try. Green tea sorbet was definitely the best. I tried green tea icecream too, but the bitter taste of the tea went best with sorbet.

picture menus
I promised a friend menus (or photos of them), started strong and then ran out of steam, oops! I know it's not a fancy look, but having photos on the menu was immensely helpful as we don't speak or read Japanese. And even cheap and cheerful places almost always served very good quality food.

beer menu
I did like this regional menu/beer guide.

Fukagawa-meshi (rice boiled with clams). Not vegetarian.


I am actually not that fond of eggplant. (Call the vegetarian police!) Still, to be adventurous, on our second night in Tokyo I decided to try the Japanese pickled version. It was an alarming shade of blue. It tasted....ok. I did like the matching plate it was served on. Almost everywhere we ate, we admired hand made and/or hand painted dishes.

blue pickled eggplant
Seriously very blue.

More special plates, this time in Kyoto.

I did have some odd meals. I'm not one to order plain salad as a meal, but sometimes I didn't have much choice - it tended to be the easiest thing for the staff to recommend. These large raw chunks would have been a pretty unsatisfying meal usually, but it sort of balanced out nicely against my lunch that day. We had ended up in a somewhat western-style coffee and pancake place for lunch in Shimokitagawa. They were out of vegetable lasagne, the quiche had bacon in it...what could I do but order (delicous) custardy pancakes for lunch?

egg sandwich
Egg sandwiches from the 7-eleven or coffee shops helped to supplement a few meals. We also found that a single hard-boiled egg from one of the ever-present convenience stores was the perfect snack for Mum when she abruptly ran out of fuel too far out from dinner. (I wouldn't say she gets 'hangry' but it is best to deal with it quickly)

cold soba
Cold soba noodles - and a Miyajima pale ale. This was dinner after our afternoon on the beautiful island of Miyajima.

coffee can
I didn'd end up trying the coffee in the can but my sister did. Unfortunately we didn't work out which button to press to get an unsweetened one. We also searched fruitlessly for the fabled can from the vending machine that heats the coffee for you. Eventually we asked a helpful lady at the tourist information centre in Hiroshima (hey! they are there to help tourists, we had needs) and she explained that the heated cans are most likely only put in the machines in the colder months. Oh.

In Kyoto there was a lovely little cafe near our hotel, which served Western-ish breakfasts. We went there twice - I was almost a bit disappointed the second time when they gave us forks instead of chopsticks.

rice burger
Rice burger. It's a real thing. This was at Miyajimaguchi, while waiting to take the ferry to the island. And it wasn't mine (not vegetarian).

Along with cold soba, okonomiyaki was one of the foods I was looking forward to. Minus bonito (fish) flakes for me. We only managed to eat it once, in Nara, and it was pretty good. It was a tiny little family-run place which seemed to only have two tables. I think Hiroshima is really where we should have sought it out, but we only had two half days there, and weren't in town for dinner. So it goes.