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1985/7 Japan

Japan!!
23 October 1985
Posted 23.10.85; received 30.10.85

Hello there

I’m down to ¥5,000 ($25) and I’m not sure how I’m going to make it through the week, but I start work on Friday at $20 per hour and I move into my own room next month at $100 per month, and I’ve been to a WONDERFUL festival and I LOVE my camera and I’ve met LOTS of people and I’m having a GAS. How are you guys doin’?

The Japanese people are great. Very polite and very helpful – despite the fact that on the whole their English is atrocious. It’s wonderful to watch them bowing to each other in the streets. I don’t quite know how to react when they rush to open the door and bow me out of their shops. The strangest thing about being in this country is that I’m probably above-average height! I can SEE over the tops of people’s heads! And can reach the straps on buses and trains without having to stand on my toes! That in itself is a totally new experience! One of the things that I love most is that whenever you go into a coffee shop you are brought a hot damp cloth on which to wipe your hands and a glass of cold water before being served. Apparently in summer they bring you a cold cloth.

Anyway – about my job. I only have seven hours per week to start with (these seven hours still bringing in the highest wage I’ve had since I left home!!) at a private school in a tour guide’s house. One of the foreign teachers is leaving at the end of the year which will give me another six hours per week. In the meantime I shall try to find additional hours at other schools. I don’t have to teach any grammar – apart from correcting speech – and will be teaching from twelve year olds to housewives. Basically I just have to encourage them to talk. Imagine me getting paid $20 per hour for simply having a conversation with someone!! Whoowee!!

The room I’m moving into is one of five ‘foreign’ rooms in a Japanese home situated right at the foot of the hills that surround Kyoto. I will be sharing a kitchen and bathroom with the other four foreigners. My monthly rent is only $100 – VERY cheap for Japan, – but I also have to put down a $100 deposit (refundable) and $150 ‘key money’. This is a rather strange Japanese custom, sometimes involving huge amounts, whereby you have to give a cash ‘gift’ to your landlord. I’m lucky mine is so low. I had a chat to the Japanese daughter, Yusoko, explaining that I wouldn’t be able to pay the deposit or key money in the first month. Luckily she said that was OK. So I’m all set.

Both the job and accommodation contacts were given to me by that Canadian couple I met in Turkey. I shall have to write and thank them.

On Saturday I went to an IKEBANA (flower arranging) exhibition. I have already made enquiries about taking Ikebana lessons while I’m here as I would love to learn how to create such incredible beauty. I’ve never seen such wonderful arrangements in such great numbers before. Every vase and bloom and branch is chosen and arranged with care. Quite, quite lovely.

On Monday I took in a flea market at a temple in south Kyoto. There were hundreds of silk kimonos for sale – for $1-50 to $5. New kimonos can cost from $1,000 to $10,000!! So it is obviously worth looking at second hand stuff – later when I have some money.

In the grounds of the temple a little area had been tented off and here I watched a group of women ‘praying’ . Each held a little bell in their left hands and a gong in their right. They harmonised beautifully together and their singing was interspersed with the clear sweet sound of their bells and the deeper richer sound of their gongs. Very beautiful to listen to.

The other night I went with some guys from the hostel to a lecture on Zen Buddhism. I was expecting an intellectual discussion, but found myself instead taking part in a Zazen meditation. We were simply told how to sit – in a half lotus facing a blank wall – and told to get on with it for 50 minutes. Throughout the whole thing I was dreadfully aware of the pain in my legs and the rumbling in my tummy and the fact that I had no idea what I was supposed to aim for or how. After 50 minutes we took a ten minute break (during which I expected cake and coffee, but during which we were supposed to walk with ever-so-slow half steps around the room in complete silence) and were then required to ‘sit’ for another 50 minutes – a very long time for complete amateurs! Anyway – the boys and I left at this point and went out for dinner instead.

Yesterday I went to a Festival of Ages in which 3,000 people took part – all dressed in traditional costumes. The procession started at the Imperial Palace and quite by accident I found myself in the Palace gardens and hour before starting time. I must have taken at least 24 photos of the participants getting ready here – putting the last touches to their hair and make-up and costumes. A photographer’s paradise. I can’t wait for my first pay packet so that I can afford to have the film developed.

All for now. Take care.
Lotsaluv
Gail

Jidai Matsuri (festival of the ages)
Jidai Matsuri (festival of the ages)
Jidai Matsuri (festival of the ages)
Jidai Matsuri (festival of the ages)
Jidai Matsuri (festival of the ages)
Jidai Matsuri (festival of the ages)
Jidai Matsuri (festival of the ages)
Jidai Matsuri (festival of the ages)
Jidai Matsuri (festival of the ages)
Jidai Matsuri (festival of the ages)
Jidai Matsuri (festival of the ages)
Jidai Matsuri (festival of the ages)
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