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1985/7 Japan

Kyoto
11 November 1985
Posted 12.11.85; received 19.11.85

Hi

I’m high as a kite. Not on anything imbibed, but on a wonderful day and past wonderful days and wonderful days to come. The cherry on top of today is a phone call I’ve just made to organize my first IKEBANA lesson. I start on Friday 22 with a lady who lives fairly near to me and who will be charging me ¥1,600 per lesson (+-$8). Including flowers. I have been out all day and have just come in after collecting my two letters from the Poste Restante. Thanks for yours, mom and dad. I’ll answer all those questions in awhile. I woke up this morning and the SUN was shining. Apparently Kyoto has a lot of sunshiny days during Autumn and Winter, but this was the first in awhile. So I showered and set off with my wonderful camera (I got TAMRON lenses, dad. Which are better here than abroad. And I’ve had my first two films developed. I am THRILLED with the results. Not the photographs of a professional, but certainly those of a good camera) for Ginkaku-ji. The Silver temple. In 1482 a Shogun named Ashikaga built his villa here and on his death it was turned into a Zen temple. The original plan was to cover one of the buildings with silver leaf. Though this was not carried out the temple still retains the word ‘silver’ in its title. ‘It’s the thought that counts’ is obviously held true by the Japanese. The garden was lovely. With lots of trees – many in the process of changing colour – and a carp-filled pond and little curved bridges and moss-covered rocks. I have enclosed the entrance ticket which shows the sand sculptures in front of the main building. The foreground represents a Chinese lake. It is raked (every day) in such as way as to create ‘ripples’ on which the moonlight reflects and brightens the garden. If you sit and look at it for awhile it has quite an hypnotic effect. While I was there three monks with shaved heads and bare feet and cotton kimonos met to chant to the echoes of a drum and bells. Quite lovely – and equally hypnotic – to listen to.

Did I tell you I had been befriended by four housewives who are students of Mr M’s? I met them today for lunch. Which we had at Mrs Itani’s house. Oyster soup and sticky brown rice with fried eel and kiwi fruit and Japanese tea. All served beautifully in beautiful bowls. They then took me – by taxi nogal – to the Nembutsu-ji Temple in western Kyoto. This temple was originally founded in the 9th century. Founded at this spot because it had been a burial ground as far back as anyone could remember. At the temple are approximately 8,000 carved stone Buddhas. These had originally been grave stones, but were gathered from the surrounding bamboo grove in which they were found and brought here. Pretty impressive stuff.

Yesterday – during my 6 hours between lessons – I went with three students and one trainee tour guide to a Mum show. Not mom-mums, but chrysanthe-mums. The show runs from Sept 21 to Dec 1 every year and consists not only of the most amazing Mums you’ve ever seen, but of life-size dolls clothed in Mum kimonos etc. The dolls this year – about 200 of them – depicted a civil war between two Shoguns in the 17th century. They are clothed in the entire plant – roots and all. Each plant consists of +-175 blooms. And each plant has to be replaced every 7-10 days. So that by the end of the show 100,000 plants have been used !!!! As promised Mr M paid me for taking the students along. $10 per hour for the 4 hours we were away. Plus he paid for my lunch and the $5 entrance fee. Does that sound too good to be true, or what? PLUS he has given me an extra three hours’ work per week. Bringing my total to ten hours and my weekly wage to $200. Not bloody bad at all!!

In answer to all your questions, dad. OK. High. No. Yes. Middling. Yes. The World. (Sorry.) My finances are just fine. And hopefully by next month I will be working 20 hours per week and bringing home $400 tax free. So despite the VERY high cost of living I shall live well and save well. Only this month will be a little tight as I have my deposit ($100) and key money ($150) still to pay. But no sweat. By now you will know that I have already spent the money you owed me. The exchange rate has obviously changed as – if I remember correctly – when you phoned me in the States you said the amount was $210. What shall I do now? By the way, I cannot draw cash on your card. When I was VERY low that one week I thought perhaps I could borrow some money from you and went into the Amex office in Osaka to check. You can only draw cash if you are a MAIN member and then only if you go to Tokyo. So…I just had to get by and I did.

Before leaving the States I purchased for $184 a ticket via Taiwan to Hong Kong. Purely as a safety precaution and fully refundable. But the immigration people didn’t check. Nor did they ask about money. They simply gave me three months to stay. It is apparently a mere formality to get this extended to six months. Then I’d like to go to China, but I’m not sure yet if I can get in. Then back here for six months. Then India, Nepal, Thailand. If I can get in!! Then…I don’t know. That’s a long way off.

I have been doing some of my own cooking. Just vegetables. Meat is exorbitant. If I eat out, it’s noodles or rice. They’re the cheapest. Then there is always McDonald’s. So I cope.

Out shopping on Saturday I couldn’t help but laugh at how many people manage to get on one bus. There are no restrictions as to numbers as in Britain. A FULL bus will pull up and 20 more people will get on. It is amazing to watch them disappearing into the depths of the bus. There is no indication of where they all go and yet the crowd outside keeps diminishing until everyone has found a space on the bus. (Except me still standing bemused on the pavement.) It is as though some vastly ravenous beast has ingested all those waiting. You are tempted to look underneath the bus to see if it is spewing out any bones.

I’ve just finished crying over Cry, the Beloved Country. And am about to start on Andre Brink’s A Dry White Season.

Look forward to hearing from you soon
Lotsaluv
Gail

PS Mom – CONGRATS on your 75%!! Please send copies of your Pol Sc essays!

Ginkaku-ji
Ginkaku-ji
Ginkaku-ji
Ginkaku-ji
Ginkaku-ji
Ginkaku-ji
'Mum show
'Mum show
Nembutsu-ji - god of wind
Nembutsu-ji - god of wind
Nembutsu-ji
Nembutsu-ji
Nembutsu-ji
Nembutsu-ji
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