For my last day of work, Thursday March 31, TYK organized for me a day trip to Kyoto! Visit of several temples to enjoy the cherry blossoms, meal in a restaurant of high Japanese gastronomy and dance performance by the Geishas are on the program! Followed by a meal to celebrate my departure with TYK leaders in Tajimi in the evening! So it is quite excited that I join Kaku-san who is accompanying me on this busy day!
We take several trains to reach Kyoto, including the Shinkansen, which I am taking for the first time. The very long nose of the device is not to its advantage. It may be for aerodynamic issues but it really is not very pretty. The interior looks like an airplane but with more space: rounded portholes, reclining seats with tablet, numbered rows of seats, neon lights. Added to this is a flow of information that scrolls at both ends of the wagon. Theses of course provides information on the stops, but also on the weather, on the news, on the state of companies in Japan… Around 9:30 am, we arrive in Kyoto. As soon as we land, we meet Mr. Matsumura, our taxi driver for the day. First time in a Japanese taxi! It is comfortable. Mr. Matsumura seems to be happy to meet me. He tells me that he did a year of French during his studies. Demonstration of the few words he knows and we leave!
Our first destination was supposed to be the Daigo-ji temple twenty minutes by car from the center of Kyoto. But Mr. Matsumura tells us that the schedule is too tight and that it is better to visit the gardens of the Imperial Palace. It is closer and it’s “The number 1 place in Kyoto to see the cherry blossom” says our driver. The gardens are fifty-one hectares and are home to the Kyoto-gosho (Kyoto Imperial Palace) which served as the Emperor’s official residence until the beginning of the Meiji era in 1868. Indeed, the place is very beautiful. We walk along the palace grounds (visitable only by prior reservation) and arrive in a corner of the garden with several magnificent cherry blossoms. Several species of cherry trees coexist for color variations from pure white to almost bright pink. The weeping cherry trees (with falling branches) are impressive. A whole bunch of people came to rave about this fragile beauty.
But time is running and we have to leave already. Lunch at 11:30 a.m. in a restaurant of high Japanese gastronomy or Kaiseki. It is a cuisine where harmony of taste, texture, appearance and colors is sought. In general, ten dishes make up a meal. Kaku-san and I are sat in a “room” overlooking the small Zen garden, around a large round table where a lady in a kimono brings us the different dishes one after the other. Only fish on the menu and a lot of things I have never eaten, for interesting but a little bit strange flavors! We start with a green tofu, followed by sashimi (bluefin tuna, salmon and other), then a kind of vegetable soup and shrimp meat, sushi including a sea snail and a small octopus. I hesitate a little about the snail and the octopus but it is the occasion or never. The octopus passes without problem, the snail a little less. Funny texture. We continue with tempura (fried donuts) of vegetables and shrimps, then a kind of omelette made with eel, rice and miso soup, to finish with a dessert that contrasts with the rest since it is very European: cake gelatin with strawberries, white grapefruit and cream. A delight.
A little bit short on the schedule, we leave at full speed to reach the theater Kamishichiken-kaburen-jo. We do not want to miss the highlight of the day: the Kitano Odori. An event not to be missed in Kyoto at the end of spring, the Kitano Odori is a traditional dance and theater performance performed by the Kyoto Geishas. Geiko (confirmed geishas) and Maiko (apprentices) perform three times a day for two weeks, dances accompanied by traditional instruments such as the shamisen (long-necked lute of Chinese origin) or the koto (long zither). We arrive two minutes before the start! I barely have time to enjoy the room with pretty red lanterns then the show begins. The first part is very similar to the Kabuki that I saw in Tokyo last November. A little too theatrical for me. The second part is just dance. For around thirty minutes, around forty geishas perform several numbers of traditional dances in sumptuous costumes. (Since photos were not allowed, I found you a video on youtube). Superb show!
After the show Kaku-san and I join Mr. Matsumura who takes us to see the Kitano Tenman-gu temple right next to the theater. We are shooting Omikuji (divination) but I am again falling on not very good predictions. After those drawn with Kanji-san a few days earlier, it is starting to become worrying! I hang my paper properly to try to counter the bad luck.
Mr. Matsumura then brings us back to the station where I buy Omiyage (gifts / souvenirs) for the people of TYK. Kyoto specialties: Namayatsu hashi, fine rice paste cake filled with red bean paste and having various tastes (chocolate, green tea, cherry blossoms …) and dangos skewers with different tastes and colors.
The return to Tajimi is calm, Kaku-san and I are falling asleep, tired by the day. We separate at the station, Kaku-san being unable to attend the evening. I thank her warmly and get on a small bus where the directors of the R&D center are located: Koike-san and Takayama-san as well as other people from TYK and Mrs Okamoto (the lady in charge of the dormitory). We arrive at a restaurant where a large room was reserved just for us. A long row of small individual tables are lined up next to each other. Forty guests are planned! Traditional meal on the menu. It may be a little too much, all of that for me. Mr. Ushigome (the president) arrives and everyone sits down. I am sitting next to him. Kanji-san is there too! The evening finally takes place in a very friendly atmosphere. I chat a lot with the different guests and Mr. Ushigome. Helped by sake, languages are loosening and the usual Japanese restraint gradually disappears. We end the evening in a small group of ten people, especially people from the R&D center, doing Karaoke! Another first for me! It is an opportunity to appreciate (or not) everyone’s musical performance. I sing to them “La vie en Rose” by Edith Piaf. The atmosphere is good-natured and a joke. I really enjoy these last moments with the people from TYK, with a little feeling of regret for not having known them that way earlier. Kanji-san then takes me back to the dorm where I fall asleep with lots of memories and a new vision of the TYK people.