Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Intricacies of Noh Theater, Imperial Park and a Sumptous Banquet

Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Kyoto, Japan

Two days into our stay in Kyoto, jetlag is swiftly wearing off. Both Llew and I slept well although we awoke at the crack of dawn. As Llew showered, I got organized for the day. Breakfast was pretty much a repeat of the previous morning with its fine array of baked goods, sausages, salad, miso soup, white and brown rice cakes with the added punch of nori and fresh pomelo which I am truly enjoying.
We ate well, shared communal tables with workshop delegates who are already beginning to feel like old friends and then walked to the subway station to get to Otani University. Llew and I parted company after breakfast and he decided to explore Kyoto Railway Station more fully including taking a turn in famed Isetan Department Store.

Half an hour later, we were in class and listening avidly to Prof. Michael Emmerich espouse his findings on the attempts made by 16th to 19th century litterateurs to adapt The Tale of Genji into illustrated coffee table editions that contain impressive calligraphy and art work. The talk was punctuated by a vast number of black and white slides. After a short rest room break, it was the turn of Prof. Monica Berthe to talk to us briefly about the main principles of Noh and Kyogen Theater, Japan's traditional threatrical forms. Since there was much to understand by way of sound, sight and movement, Monica kept us enthralled with her vivid explanations.

Bento  Box Lunch at Otani University:
Llew did return by 12 noon and joined me in a delicious Bento Box lunch which included  chicken, a sweetish rice, pickled veggies and sushi and then, without a moment, to lose, we walked briskly for about 20 minutes to get to the home of Noh Master Kawamaru Haruhisa who has been a Noh performer since the age of three and who runs the establishment with his wife and his cousin's sons. For the next three hours, we were absorbed in a live lecture-demonstration on the art form that included  his family members. There was much movement on our parts--indeed the most unusual experience was instruction in the art of stage movement using the special white tabi slippers that are an essential part of the cultural performance and which I had ordered earlier. We walked with small mincing movements on the stage in a manner reminiscent of Michael Jackson's famous Moon Walk--dragging the weight of our bodies and alternating from one side and one hip to the next. We saw the grandeur of the elaborate costumes used on stage from close quarters as the pretty Noh Master's wife demonstrated their complex structure and glorious textile design and weave. We watched as the Master was enrobed and bewigged to play the role of Atsumori and then were treated to a twenty minute performance of a Noh drama entitled Aoi no oe. He changed his masks expertly on stage with the assistance of his collaborators by merely turning his back to us and bending over a cloak that former a curtain to conceal the change. Overall, it was a stupendous experience and a true treat. To have the guidance of a man whose skills are so impressive answer our questions with such patience, to have the privilege of 'dancing' on a Noh stage that is used even today for dramatic performances, to listen to the distinctive vocal sounds produced by trained musicians as part of the show--every single component combined to make us understand the nuances of such an art form and the reasons why it has continued to flourish in Japan despite the fact that the average length of a performance is six hours!

Strolling Through the Imperial Park:
With time to spare after we finished with the Noh demonstration,  Llew and I joined a group of our new friends to walk through the Imperial Park, home of the Imperial Palace. It is a vast open park land in the midst of the crowded city--Kyoto's answer to New York's Central Park--and it was an interesting experience to encircle the forbidding palace gates. To take a tour of the palace, one needs to obtain permission which is quite easily done. (Llew will take the tour on Friday morning when I am at workshop sessions).  But since I will probably not have the time to explore it, I refrained from going into the office to get permission. Instead, we took in the neatly landscaped park with its old trees, its gravel pathways and its quiet stillness before we hopped into the subway and rode two stops back to our hotel.

Off to a Grand Reception:
We had about an hour to relax before dressing in smart casual clothing for our Welcome Reception at Living Bar, a charming semi-traditional restaurant right opposite the famous Daimaru Department store. For the next three hours, we were treated to an open bar which permitted us to try all sorts of drinks (I had a plum cocktail that was delicious) and a multi-course spread that was served family style. From nibbles (steamed edamame) to dessert (raspberry and mango sorbets), we tasted the gamut of Japanese dishes: there was a delicious fish in plum sauce, fatty pork grilled and served with salad, glass noodles with strips of sirloin, smoked salmon served with salad, roast beef strips in a piquant sauce, 'fish rice', bowls of steamed and sauced vegetables that were crisp and crunchy and very delicately flavored. Throughout the evening, we were regaled by jokes and anecdotes at the mike that kept us roaring and as the camaraderie flowed around the table together with the drinks, we were in fine spirits.

A five minute walk took us back to our hotel where I showered, wrote this blog and decided to call it a day as my eyelids were fairly falling by the end of my account.

Until tomorrow, thanks for following me and Sayonara!    

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