Women of Letters recap

Today was special because it was the first Women of Letters event that Sean came to. And he loved it. And he drove. Which makes him special. But yes. We were back at the Regal Ballroom in Northcote and Elyse and her mate Chelsea joined us, and we were up in a cosy corner of the room with drinks and vegetarian pastries, sitting back waiting to be assaulted with feels. And by Jove, we were.
The radiant Emilie Zoey Baker was MC-ing today because Michaela McGuire is still overseas, but Marieke Hardy was taking tickets at the door and I tried not to look like a complete loser and trip over my own feet or stop breathing or something when I saw her, but SUCCESS. I behaved, more or less, like a functioning adult. The theme today was ‘A letter to the missing puzzle piece’. I freaking love these themes. 
First up, was the hilarious Jane Kennedy, who shared a couple of letters written by her twelve-year-old self and her twelve-year-old bestie, back when they were – you guessed it – twelve. We laughed heartily at the mentions of familiar but nostalgic television shows and footy gossip, but the best part was when Jane then read a letter from her twelve-year-old self if she had been twelve in 2013. The text-speak littered through the letter was apt, but the best part was when she compared the dinner Mum was making that night – slow-cooked Moroccan lamb with quinoa and kale, as opposed to the corned beef in the original letter. 
Singer Jess Cornelius was next, writing to her sister, who was ‘missing’ from her adolescent memories. This was a far more sombre letter – you could hear a pin drop while Jess was recounting the troubles with her mother and her sickness, but it was laced with the sort of tender humour that makes these letters and these speakers so damned relatable and moving. I found Jess’s letter really interesting – living in separate countries has not damaged their sisterly relationship, but it painted a less idyllic picture of the relationship between sisters which I have never been privy to. In my experience with friends who have sisters, I have seen a wide range of ‘closeness’, and Jess spoke about this with a refreshing frankness.
Rose Chong, costume-woman-extraordinaire was next, and in her softly-spoken British accent, she wrote to her father, who had disapproved of her coupling up with a Chinese man, but who had gradually come to accept and respect her partner. The focus of Rose’s story was her court case, after she had accidentally illegally acquired 25 kangaroo skins for costuming needs. However, the court charged her with possession of kangaroos, not just their skins, and she was therefore let off with a light slap on the wrist and the promise not to kill anything for the next six months, which she managed just fine. 
Bindi Cole, an artist with a life full of extreme experiences, wrote to her future child. She told us of the pain that her and her husband had endured with years of trying for a baby, and the devastation of their miscarriage. She also spoke of her faith in God, and how this was helping her through it, and the comfort of prayer. Those of you who know me personally will know how much this resonated with me (the faith part, not the trying to get pregnant part). She wrote with beautiful optimism to this baby, explaining about how she couldn’t wait to meet it. Everyone was feeling a bit teary and wobbly once she finished her letter, and then she revealed that she had started the letter on Monday, finished it on Wednesday and on Thursday had found out she was pregnant. The Regal Ballroom exploded in cheers.
Finally, there was Kerry Greenwood, author of many, many books including the Phryne Fisher series. She lives with a real-life wizard, which is pretty freaking amazing, but she wrote to her missing ability with numbers. For an accomplished woman who has done a whole heap of amazing things in her life, the one element that brings her to her knees is numbers, and she recounted with great wit and sass everything she had trouble with (measurements, cooking etc) and how she got around it. She was a delight to listen to – particularly descriptive and humorous, perhaps because of her knack for writing novels? Anyway, she was a perfect way to finish the line-up. 
During the break, Marieke Hardy came to our table to offer us stamps for the letters we were writing and I extremely red-facedly asked her to sign my notebook, and she did so, incredibly obligingly. Sean and I somehow ended up having a detailed discussion with her about crying during the letters and how make-up tends to run. Marieke was worried one of her false eyelashes would slide down onto her top lip like a particularly dashing moustache. I sort of laughed and stared at her, trying to come to terms with the fact I was having a conversation with her. Sean made up for my complete inadequacy with his easy chatter. Yep. It was sort of the best day ever.
Emilie Zoey Baker finished up with the questions for the guests and they were wonderful and funny and insightful and perfect. I left feeling more inspired than ever. The next Women of Letters cannot come quickly enough. 
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Sayonara Japan!

Phew! I’m writing this from Melbourne. We flew into Tullamarine at 10.55am today and have spent the day unpacking and relaxing. Sean came and picked us up from the airport because he is awesome, and we had Marnie and a bunch of guests over for dinner…we had Japanese. It was amazing. BUT, before any of this happened, we had one last day in Kyoto!

We packed up like pros and were out of the house and at the station by 11am. We put our luggage in storage lockers and got on a train to Fushimi Inari Shrine. It’s only a ten minute train trip, and the shrine is right outside the station. It’s a massive shrine with hundreds of orange torii gates forming tunnels, providing some fantastic photo ops. We spent plenty of time walking around and Marnie bought two kimono jackets and after a spot more shopping, we took the train back to Kyoto Station.

Fushimi Inari

 

Fushimi Inari

Then we jumped in a taxi and took off to Nishiki Market! (Didn’t want to waste our last day!) Nishiki Market is a massive food market in the middle of Kyoto, and they sell HUGE amounts of seafood and pickled vegetables and various cakes and sweets. Dad had oysters while we browsed, and then we went for one last okonomiyaki meal, this time, Osaka-style. Crazy delicious, as I have come to expect.

Nishiki Market

 

OM NOM NOM

Then it was back to the station, onto a 88-minute bus ride to the airport, and then we boarded a plane to the Gold Coast at 8.40pm! I didn’t sleep a wink overnight, but managed an hour or so on the flight this morning to Melbourne. It was great to be back in Australia, hearing our accents etc, but I can’t wait for my next trip. I’ve made a bucket list and am trying to decide what to save for next. Until then, I’m hoping to keep blogging semi-regularly. Only time will tell…

Kinkakuji Temple

So this morning I took a bus to meet the others at Kinkakuji Temple. They had risen early to go to a market, but I wanted to experiment with packing a bit more, so I skipped the market. Kinkakuji Temple is covered in gold leaf and looked absolutely glorious in the sunshine, and we went for a long walk around the gardens surrounding it. There was even a crane posing for pictures on one of the islands in the ponds.

Kinkakuji Temple

Crane!

After Kinkakuji, we headed back to our district (Ginkakuji) and had incredibly tasty ramen (with kotteri broth) for lunch. We went for a much longer walk down the Path of Philosophy, stopping to look at kimonos, and ended up right down near Nanzen-ji Temple, which looked beautiful in the late afternoon sunshine. There are over 2000 temples and shrines in Kyoto alone, which is why I’ve been blogging so much about them! We have also had several experiences where we have re-met other tourists we have met along the way. We met a French-Japanese couple in a restaurant in Hiroshima, and then Dad saw them the other day on the Path of Philosophy in Kyoto! And last night at Kyoto Station we got talking to two doctors from Chile, and bumped into them again today at the Kinkakuji Bus Stop. In a country of over 122 million people, you can understand why we found this so weird!

Nanzen-ji Temple

Nanzen-ji Temple

Marnie, Dad and I went back into Gion for one last okonomiyaki and it was the tastiest, most delicious thing. We then walked back through lit up, beautiful Gion, down the older streets and even saw an apprentice geisha! Which I believe is called a mako? We took the bus home, and continued our efforts to pack. We fly out tomorrow night. See you all soon!

Okonomiyaki!

Okonomiyaki!

Arashiyama

This morning we got up early – too early! – and took a bus to Kyoto Station. After refueling, we took a train to a place called Kameoka and hopped aboard a boat sailing down the Hozu River. It takes, depending on weather, I think, between 1 and 2 hours to get down the river to Arashiyama, and it’s a very peaceful trip. There are rapids, and they look quite rough, but I was stunned by how smooth the boat is going over them. I think it has something to do with the fact the bottom of the boat is so wide and flat, but you just glide over the surface of the waves and it looks cool, but is very calm. The scenery surrounding the river is like Middle Earth, all tall forests and deep, green water and beautiful rock formations. It’s filled with ducks and cormorants and these tiny finch-like birds, as well as tortoises chilling on the rocks and watching you, and MONKEYS. We saw a couple of MONKEYS, you guys. They were up in the trees, eating fruits or flowers or doing whatever monkeys do, and they were small, about the size of a large possum. But I saw wild monkeys, so yep. Japan win.

Hozu River

 

Hozu River

 

Hozu River

We disembarked at Arashiyama and spent a couple of hours browsing shops, and went for a walk through the giant bamboo grove, which is a pretty magical place. I think half the population of Kyoto was in Arashiyama as well, but it’s Sunday, so we shouldn’t have been surprised. Arashiyama is a bit like Takayama, in that it’s not a massive, bustling city, but the tourism there is booming. We left at about 4.30, almost falling asleep on our feet. Crowds are tiring!

Bamboo grove

 

Arashiyama

We investigated a grocery shop and a book shop at Kyoto Station (the essentials), then headed back through CRAZY traffic on the bus back to the house. Dad made yet another delicious meal using udon noodles, soup mixes and some salmon. Utterly delicious. We are now all attempting to pack. We have to stay under 15 kilos for checked-in baggage on the flight home…

REIKO REIKO!

This morning we were woken at 5.30 by A FREAKING EARTHQUAKE. We are all fine, and Japan is fine, though I think there were injuries sustained near the epicentre. But it was definitely the biggest earthquake I have ever felt. Much more shaky and noisy than those piddly earth tremors we sometimes get in Melbourne. About ten seconds before we felt the quake, I was woken by the phone making a terrible racket (these are the phones we’ve hired while in Japan) and it turns out they’re all equipped with an earthquake alarm. Beats me how it manages to get to everyone in time to actually precede us feeling the quake, but that is the brilliance of Japan and seismologists. Apparently the quake measures 5.8, so not a tiny one, but nothing devastating either. Anyway, with that excitement out of the way, I went back to sleep for maybe an hour, but then we got up to have breakfast and start the day. Dad ran off to play with Hondas and Marnie and Margaret went for a walk and I stayed home to Skype with Sean.

The plan for today was to meet Reiko for lunch and to spend time with her after that – she was coming all the way from Osaka to meet us for the day. Her train was delayed because of the quake, but we met up with her eventually and went for lunch on the Path of Philosophy. I tell you, it was absolute luxury having a Japanese speaker along with us. It made everything so much simpler! Reiko hasn’t changed one bit. She’s still gorgeous and funny and smart and terribly good at English and I haven’t seen her in about 3 or 4 years so it was an absolute joy. We took her back to our house after lunch and FaceTimed with Mum and Riley and Simon and Mitchell back home. It was awesome to hear Reiko and Mitch carrying on a conversation in two languages. I wish I was bilingual. After tearing ourselves away from the iPad, we walked to Ginkakuji Temple (the Silver Pavilion) which is only round the corner from where we are staying. It’s another stunning set of gardens, and we got some great photos in the perfect weather. We also arrived home to a letter from Kinjiro, with the photos from Tokyo!!

Ginkakuji Temple

Ginkakuji Temple

We took the bus back to Kyoto Station with Reiko and went to a tonkatsu restaurant for dinner. It’s mostly pork dishes that come with salad and tiny serves of pickled vegetables and miso soup and rice, and we got bamboo rice with ours with was beautiful. We talked and talked for ages, but eventually we had to say goodbye to Reiko and it was so freaking sad, because I really don’t want it to be another three years before I see her again! But I’m so glad we got to spend today with her. Tomorrow, Arashiyama!!

Dinner OM NOM NOM

Reiko!

Tea ceremony

This morning I elected to stay home. As much as I hate missing out on things, my fear of getting sick outweighs this, and my body has been punishing me the last few days for not resting properly. So I got up to have breakfast with everyone, but then went back to bed for two hours once they’d left, and I feel about 400 times more human than I did yesterday. TEN POINTS TO GRYFFIND- I MEAN, EMILY.

After my mega-nap, I hopped on a bus and met the others at Gion. Margaret headed off, but Dad and Marnie and I went to get a coffee. The little cafe was really charming, with an English menu, but the woman who seemed to own it didn’t speak any English. When we asked for milk, she delivered us the tiniest little milk jugs you ever did see – they were about the size of a thimble – and Marnie was so enamoured, we just had to have one. So Dad negotiated with his phrase book and managed to buy one. I think the woman thought we were crazy, not least because we couldn’t stop giggling at this tenth of a mouthful of milk.

After milk-jug-accruing-adventures, Marnie and I went to a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Marnie has been to one in China, but I have never done anything like this, so I was especially curious. It took about 45 minutes and cost 2000yen (about $20), but that included tea, a sweet and the chance to have a go at making your own with the traditional utensils and methods. Our host was a lovely lady dressed in traditional kimono, and the ceremony took place in a traditional room, on tatami mats with sliding screens (rather like the house we are staying in). She explained everything -the meanings behind every gesture (and there were A LOT of meanings and gestures) and the functions of the different utensils. Every tea container and tea scoop is individually made and each tea scoop has a different name – either derived from nature or Zen principles. Our tea scoop’s Japanese name meant ‘Spring Sunshine’. She explained about purifying the tea and purifying yourself, and the different expressions of respect to the tea and to other people throughout the ceremony. For instance, you must turn the tea bowl twice, clockwise, to prevent your lips touching the ‘face’ of the tea bowl (the precious side) and thus disrespecting the tea. When you’ve finished drinking, you turn the tea bowl back, counter-clockwise. She also explained about the three things you need to bring with you when invited to a traditional tea ceremony. These include a fan (special tea ceremony size one) which is never actually opened. Instead, it is kept folded up, on the floor in front of you between the rest of the room and you, and you bow behind it. Which is another marker of respect. The other two things you need to bring are a little wooden knife to cut up your sweet and paper to place your sweet on before you eat it. Everything was precise, structured, and beautiful.

Tea ceremony

My awesome tea foam

After her performance and explanation, she gave us each a tea bowl and whisk to use, and we passed around the powdered tea container and tea scoop. She gave us hot water and showed us how to whisk the tea – back and forth in a straight line, not in a circle, as fast as you can, until foam forms on top. She inspected our efforts and told me my foam was better than her previous attempt. Japan win. Then you pick it up in your right hand, rest it on your left hand, and turn it twice. Then drink. Powdered green tea is very bitter, but I actually didn’t mind it. Afterwards, she informed us that to be a proper tea master, you train for about ten years. She is still learning. Also, a traditional tea ceremony can take up to to 3-4 hours. Phew.

We headed home and joined Margaret and Dad made another delicious dinner, using most of the same ingredients from last night to use them up, but he also made ramen with udon noodles. Om nom nom nom. Now we’ve had dessert and I am too full. We’re seeing Reiko tomorrow hopefully!

Dinner by Dad. Yum!

Nijo Castle

This morning, after discovering I had deprived us of the internet for the past two days by accidentally unplugging the router, we took a bus to a handicrafts centre, and all spent too much money. I only bought a bag and a book for Dad about Honda, but it was a pricey place. And ENGLISH-LANGUAGE BOOKS! That was pretty exciting. So we spent ages and ages browsing there and hoping to will more money into existence. The staff were lovely, and one woman had lived in Sydney for five years, so her English was brilliant. And she complimented me on my Japanese pronunciation. Score!

After spending up big, we took a bus to Nijo Castle. I was pretty excited about Nijo Castle. Sean put me on to this excellent series called the ‘Tales of the Otori’ set in a sort of version of feudal Japan, and the first book is called ‘Across the Nightingale Floor’. Nijo Castle actually HAS a nightingale floor, which I totally didn’t realise was a real thing. Basically it’s just an uber-creaky floor so the castle’s occupants can hear if someone is approaching. An olde-worlde security alarm if you will, and rather like walking down our hallway at home. But it was so cool to actually see THE nightingale floor! And walk on it! We had to take our shoes off, but even the lightest footfall makes a sound. And it really does sound musical. The floor sort of chirps and sings, rather than creak and groan. We took a photo of underneath (you can sort of get a view of it from outside) and there are these little skewers in all the planks of wood, that somehow make it sing. It was awesome – I felt like a little kid. The grounds around the Castle are pretty great as well, and there is lots of cherry blossom and other types of colourful flowers. We’ve actually come at the end of the blossom cycle (it came unusually early in Japan this year), but it still looks fantastic, regardless.

Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle
Beneath the nightingale floor

Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle

By this time I was crazy tired. I don’t know why exactly, but I think I’ve just done too much without a rest day, so I might chill out tomorrow because I don’t want to be tired for our last few days in Japan. We made our way to Kyoto Station and had lunch, and then I departed, and headed back to the house. The others stayed out for a few more hours, but they are on their way home now, and I’ve had a shower and a rest and feel a bit better. Dad’s cooking tonight, with rice and duck and some delicious pickled bamboo and marinated mushrooms we bought at the market in Takayama. Can’t wait!