I’m skipping a day and writing about yesterday. Day before yesterday was less interesting than yesterday, so I may or may not get ’round to writing about it.

Yesterday we visited the city of Kurashiki, guided by Sid. Kurashiki is a city of about 350,000 people with a small section of well-preserved old architecture. Kurashiki was an important area of commerce during the Edo period and became so commercially powerful that it remained independent of feudal rule. We reached it from Kyoto by taking a shinkansen to Okayama and a local train on to Kurashiki.

Our tour started near the train station in Kurashiki. We took a brief look at the outside of Tivoli Park, which our guidebook describes as a “immensely popular Danish theme park”. Yes, you read that correctly: it’s a Danish theme park in Japan, named after a place in Italy. Don’t believe me? Here’s proof:

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You should be able to make out the words TIVOLI PARK near the right side of the photo, and those are statues of Vikings on the pillars. Here’s a close-up of two of them:

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Also note the Ferris wheel and the cherry trees in the background. O-kay.

Moving along, our next main stop was the Ohashi House. This is a house built in 1796 which belonged to the Ohashi family, one of the more prosperous and influential families. It has been preserved essentially as it was when last occupied. It’s very pleasant to walk through. It’s also a little bit difficult to photograph because it is illuminated only by outside light.

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This is the kitchen, which is unusually large because the house was home to a number of workers as well as the family:

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This sort of incongruous pairing of old and new architecture is quite common in Japan, particularly in towns with preserved older areas:

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This section was originally a warehouse for rice and other goods, but is now a small museum of family artifacts:

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This is a music box which used punched rolls of paper to play different songs:

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Next we wandered through the main shopping streets of the preserved area. Almost all of the old buildings have been turned into shops, museums, and restaurants of varying quality.

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Yes, I had to sneak in a vending-machine photo. How can you not like a brand of coffee named Blendy? This machine is somewhat unusual in that it dispenses into cups, rather than spitting out cans. Here’s Tracie and Sid taking a brief rest while I find a bathroom:

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(No, we didn’t bring Tracie’s wheelchair that time. Sid reserved one for us at the tourist center–which turned out to be a darn good thing, since it was hot that day and Tracie would not have made it far on foot.)

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The river had a few ornamental koi and a larger number of not-as-ornamental ones. You could buy little bags of koi chow to throw to them, which probably explains their number and girth. An opportunistic pigeon has discovered the chow also:

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That photo bears a somewhat lengthy explanation. Tracie spotted a very cute little drawing of a cat in a shop window, so I went in to buy one for her. It turned out to be a sort of collage of paper rather than a drawing. Sid followed me in and noticed some origami paper, so he launched into a lengthy exposition (entirely in Japanese, of course) about how I was an American who did origami. This led the shopkeeper to invite me (via Sid’s translation) upstairs to see something that generally tourists weren’t shown, or something. What exactly waited upstairs wasn’t clear, but it seemed ungracious to decline since it was clear that I was being invited to do something unusual.

Up a narrow flight of stairs was a small room containing a few paper works similar to the cat, a set of shelves containing (at a guess) 50 different kinds of washi, a small office area, a small worktable, and one middle-aged Japanese gentleman busily folding paper airplanes. Some sort of introduction and explanation for my presence was provided by the shopkeeper. The gentleman cheerfully showed me a number of planes, some of which were familiar folds. (I’ve been folding paper airplanes much longer than I’ve been doing origami.) The guy seemed to speak next to no English, but he still wanted to show me how to trim one particular plane to make it fly well, and then he swept aside the stuff on his workbench, shooed away a small boy who was sitting near it, invited me to take his seat, and began to show me how to fold the plane. I was concerned that Tracie would wonder where I’d disappeared to, but I also felt that I’d inadvertently fallen into the role of some sort of paper-folding cultural emissary from the United States, so it seemed that I had to see it through.

So, he folded a plane and I followed along. He lost his place partway through and had to resort to unfolding one of the existing planes and starting over again, using the unfolded one as a guide. In the end we both produced a plane, both of which did fly quite well. I don’t know whether or not it’s an original design, but if it is, his pride in it is entirely justified. I was going to fold a plane for him, but then I realized that he was using A4 paper and all the designs I know are for US letter-sized paper, and it would have been very anticlimatic if I folded a plane and it didn’t fly because its proportions were off. So I resorted to my standby, an inflatable cube. Figuring that that was enough to fulfill my representation as an American paper-folder, I managed to politely disengage myself (with much bowing and thanking) and descend back to the shop. He followed, of course, and then there was another lengthy exchange between him, Sid, and the shopkeeper about him, me, the plane, the cube, and Buddha knows what else. He asked me to sign the cube, and then we were finally able to make our way out of the shop. I suspect he would have cheerfully folded paper for hours with me, and under other circumstances I would have cheerfully done the same.

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Sid explained, as I vaguely remembered hearing elsewhere, that sake brewers hang a big ball of cedar in front of their establishments. They look like this:

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I suppose this means that you could sell bumper stickers that say “Sake Brewers Have Big Balls” but I haven’t seen such a thing yet. Next Sid led us a bit off the main tourist-beaten path to have lunch here:

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Let me say up front that it was a nice, cozy restaurant, populated only by locals, and the food was excellent. (I had fried tofu and the usual side dishes of miso soup, rice, and odd little pickled things.) The drawback was that it smelled quite strongly of fish, as in, “wow, it really smells like fish in here!” I’m pretty sure that the main source of the aroma was a large platter of fried fish on the counter separating the kitchen from the seating area, but this observation didn’t alleviate Tracie’s concern that the atmosphere might trigger an allergic reaction which would shut down her respiratory system. She decided to brave it anyway. I kept an eye on her to make sure that she wasn’t going to re-enact Will Smith’s food-allergy performance in “Hitch”, but we finished eating and left the House of Fishiness with no Benadryl required.

The last main stop was the Kusudo House, another old and preserved set of buildings. It’s owned by Ms. Keiko Kusudo, who Sid described as a friend of a friend of his wife’s and a seller of kimono of unusual quality. She also runs a nice coffee shop in what used to be another warehouse for rice. We stopped and had some tea. The interiors of these buildings are lovely–all rough-hewn pine timbers, joined without nails or screws. I had my first taste of matcha, the emerald-green tea used in tea ceremonies. It’s widely said to be bitter, but I would describe it as strong, rather than bitter, with respect to other green teas I’ve had.

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On the way back to the train station we walked through a canopied shopping mall. I don’t know whether or not I’ve mentioned it previously, but May 5 is Boy’s Day in Japan, and families with boys hang carp wind socks[? kites? banners? flags?] outside their homes, so there are lots of carp around Japan these days.

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Categorized as Japan 2008

By adam

Go ahead, try to summarize yourself in a sentence or two.

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