December 11, 2013

Kyoto Photo Diary Part 2, February 2013

Nijō-jo, the epic plains castle and symbol of power of the Tokugawa Shogunate was Tokugawa Ieyasu’s actual residence and seat when visiting the designated Imperial Capital. Sparse, elegant, powerful and highly structured, the castle is an architectural symbol and microcosm of Tokugawa society. 

Although it housed a court, retainers, ministers, samurai and various hangers-on, our visit in the depth of winter highlighted how even the most powerful succumbed to the elements. Although beautiful, the castle was cold, dark and spartan. It was and will always be more of a symbol of power, rather than culture.

As the residence and fort of the man who bent Japan to his will and would make Tywin Lannister quiver with fear, the compound is an excellent representation of Japanese defence technology. Narrow steps, double walls, stratified entrances and ubiquitous nightingale floors to thwart shinobi feature alongside copious use gold leaf, detailed ceiling patterns and graceful wall paintings in the Kanō-ha style, well-preserved to this date. 

We were able to take a very very quick picture of a hall inside the castle.
Taking photos was not allowed inside the castle.

Surrounded by the peaceful Ninomaru Garden and pine and plum trees, preserved as a UNESCO heritage site, it is easy to be lost in the world of Tokugawa Japan, were it not for the tourists.

The first fall of snow in Kyoto, with flakes that gently fell from the sky and melted to the touch drove a desire for ソウルフード close to our hotel. Next door was Soba no Mi Yoshimura, an elegant, yet understated traditional noodle house renowned for making fresh Soba Noodles for centuries. 

The wooded setting and stylised calligraphy were potent motifs of Yoshimura’s history and drew us in on such a cold, magical night. Seated upstairs at the window near closing time, whilst a raucous group of Japanese salarymen imbibed Sake and Shochu below, we watched the snow fall gently on Gojo Dori drinking earthy green tea. It was cinematic. 

Centuries of expertise in Soba Noodle making was served to us in twin sets. First, we gorged on Japanese style chicken wings to whet our appetite, followed by Miso-Shiro soup of the most potent and sweet variety. The crispest, cleanest and most exquisite prawn and winter vegetables tempura served with green tea matcha salt provided the unthinkable: an oil based food that one could call refreshing. 

The noodles followed, in a deep, steaming bowl with chopped chives, tempura crisps and sliced ume and pickled vegetables as a sweet and sour contrast. The buckwheat noodles were aromatic, al dente, warming our cold bodies. It was almost inconceivable that such a simple meal would provide a wealth of flavour. いい食べ合わせ indeed. Although we’ve dined on these dishes before, Yoshimura’s skill, fresh local produce and technique elevated such a simple meal to heights. Whilst known for its noodles, to this date, we have yet to have better Tempura!

The definitive Biblioteca of Manga is a paradise for otaku of all ages. I took one step inside and I decided I could live here. With comfy chairs, a historic building and shelves lined with over 300,000 manga, dating from the Meiji era, to post-war classics, 1990s first editions and the contemporary; it is a rare treasure trove of every conceivable series available. Clearly, I was not the first person to think of taking up lodgings there. Year-long memberships and entrance tickets are available and many students and adults appear to be treating the museum’s nooks and crannies as private spaces.

One could not blame them for doing so. The variety of activities, presentations and exhibitions make the museum a living construct, rather than an ossuary for old books. Engaging with the world and promoting manga is a core tenement of the museum and they approach their work with academic rigour and an international inclusiveness featured at many universities. In fact, the museum is often used for Research and PhDs in Manga. 

An excellent exhibition on the reality and hardships all manga-ka face, which simultaneously eviscerates the commercial aspects in comical styling; as well as an in-depth history on manga was illuminating and confirms manga as a serious form of art for all the naysayers. Artwork lines the corridors and an emphasis on international manga, non-native to Japan (including some Filipino artists) was excellent in promoting manga’s art form as something international. 

My favorite anime EVER: Neon Genesis Evangelion. I was squirming like a fan girl when I saw these.
Finally, the gift shops was a treasure trove of trinkets from our favourite series. I could have bought the entire shop. The café outside was also a cute little treat!
Outside the Kyoto Manga Museum
Bullet Train going back to Tokyo.
Kyoto, we will be back.
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Listening to: Gods and Monsters by Lana Del Rey
Loving: Code Geass 
Watching: Code Geass OVA

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