Thursday, March 13, 2014

Glass in the Shell

Quite obvious after a few days that things aren't as I always imagined in Japan. At least not in Kyoto.

The attention to politeness and form is true enough, quite obvious from the first day as the hostess in the ryokan performed all her duties just so. Even the mercantile stores here are famed for their incomparable service from the deliberate consideration paid to their customers to the immaculate attention paid to the wrapping of even the smallest parcel. Not more, not less, just absolutely perfect. Customary bows are common enough here - and yes, after a day or two, you start automatically bowing like the locals do.

Though with much less finesse I'm sure.

And yes, they do wear traditional kimonos here and there, especially during the weekends. Think there might even be an ongoing initiative by the city trying to promote traditional wear - which I'm all for btw. Though most of the perfectly adorned kimono-clad girls daintily tripping down the lanes would most likely be fellow tourists renting costumes from the numerous stores here.

And isn't the kimono just lovely, even on a tiny tyke?

Some things however you never actually notice till you're there in person. Like the assiduous shopkeepers I mentioned earlier. The simple purchase of an inconsequential item turns out to be quite a ceremony as well. After receiving payment for said item, the shopkeepers always make it a point to only hand the beautifully wrapped parcel, sometimes with multiple layers of wrapping, at the door of their store, followed by a perfectly executed bow and repeated exhortations to return.

And can I mention how very hardworking they all are? For the storekeepers and the restaurateurs, not a single moment is lost in lackadaisical contemplation. When there are no customers to prepare for, the shopkeepers would be busy sweeping the already immaculate floors, wiping the spotless tables, taking out the garbage, arranging the eating utensils, folding the napkins, rearranging the menus etc. And most restaurants here only hire one or perhaps two waitpersons. Efficiency at its best.

Some sentimental visitors here of course expect the stores to be situated in humble wooden quarters bisected by narrow cobbled streets and that's true for some part of the city but not all. Sepia-toned images of ancient wooden quarters are true enough but not as numerous as one would think from the gushing travel brochures. For the most part, Kyoto is modern steel and concrete quite comparable to any other contemporary Japanese city.

And one odd thing to add but it has to be said. Glasses made here are not only shockingly cheap but also amazingly fast. Take several minutes of browsing through the hundreds of choices available in one of the many chain stores here - and in barely half an hour, you could have your individualized spectacles ready for you. With lens ready, mind you. Such a tempting offer that we purchased several.

Didn't need anyone to tempt us into buying the kimonos! After a day or two of strutting about in the yukata, it seemed just so easy and natural that we couldn't help but purchase a few for ourselves. Bold solid colours in the usual range of blacks to blues for the men unfortunately - unlike the dazzlingly beautiful patterns in dozens of vibrant shades for the girls. Tried my best to recall which side to place on top ( usually left over right ), took even longer to master the more intricate knot on the obi sash ( rather than just the simple one for yukata at home ) but I finally managed.

In fact I'm wearing one right now. 


Kenny Mah said...

Oh, we forgot to buy some yukata when we were in Japan.

By the way, if you like green tea, Kyoto has amazing stuff. Try Ippodo (not to be confused with the ramen shop Ippudo).

Anonymous said...

I am feeling a little melancholy after reading your article. I once bought 3 pieces of cake which cost 1000yen, the shopkeeper bows repeatedly and walked me to the door. You have no idea how much I miss Kyoto!


savante said...

So comfortable the yukata, kenny! Gives you a reason to visit again!

There are flights to kyoto, tokcoy!