August 31, 2005
I’m travelling in mainland Japan with no job to go back to, and no time limit. Okinawa is still a shade hotter than is comfortable, but here in Honshu it’s just about right, in that you can move around and carry bags without sweating too profusely.
On Thursday I spent the afternoon with K, before heading over to Kyoto. There, I stopped a girl to ask for directions, and she walked me half an hour in the wrong direction before looking at my map again, apologising profusely, and insisting she walk me back the right way again. In the course of our wanderings, it was decided that she would practice her English by emailing me, so every evening since then I have received an eccentric email to my phone telling me that I will become fat if I eat ice cream before I sleep, or that I look like the Buddha. I approve of this, and I encourage it.
The reason I actually came to the mainland (at least, the reason I came now rather than some other time) was to meet Graeme and go to the Ryoondo-Tea event that he went to last year. It’s an evening of experimental electronic music and tea ceremony, in a temple in Kyoto. As I understand it, the reason this unlikely combination exists is that the bloke who runs this small Kyoto record label has an interest in the tea ceremony, and wants to create a new, relaxed, 21st century tea ceremony.
It was an amazing event: the whole temple was surrounded on the outside by beautiful tiny lights of shifting colours, and inside filled with warm-coloured paper lanterns. As well as Graeme, his girlfriend and brother, K’s little brother – who I originally met last November – came across from neighbouring Osaka.
Drinking the frothy green tea-ceremony tea while listening to electronic music and watching the lights scattered round the temple garden and the people walking past in yukata gowns (tickets were half-price if you wore one). It was a completely unique event, and tantalisingly brief: starting at 6, finishing at 9, and leaving me wishing that it had gone on all night.
Incidentally, I’m writing this in an all-night ‘manga kissa’ (manga cafe) in Nagoya. I have a 6am train to catch, and partly to make sure I get there, partly because being unemployed I’m hesitant to fork out for a hotel that I’ll only have about four or five hours to sleep in, I decided to find a place where I could wait out the night. This is the first time I’ve spent the night in one of these places, and I’m quite taken with it. It’s a manga library with dozens of booths to sit and read in, each booth containing a big comfortable chair, an internet-enabled computer, a tv and video, and a playstation. I’m paying about five or six pounds to sit in it for four or five hours, and that allows me unlimited free drinks from the drinks machines. There’s even a shower. It’s half-three in the morning and the place is packed.