Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Kiyomuzu-yaki, Kiyomizu-dera, tofu

on 29 June we caught a taxi to the South East of Kyoto, into the hills, to visit the pottery village of Kiyomizu-yaki or 'Kyo-maki' for short. The village pottery centre displayed representative works from various artisans whose workshops lined the streets in the vicinity, packed to the ceiling with rows of pots, tea bowls and vessels of all conceivable shapes and designs. Despite the label of Kyo-maki, I found it hard to make out the unifying feature, apart from district/geographical connection, the diversity of styles, glazing techniques, colour, glazing to painting to embossing and so forth seems to cover much ground and even different firing techniques, temperatures and clays.

On our way up the long steep hill climbing to nearby Kiyomizu-dera (Temple), we stopped in to a traditional tofu specialist restaurant. This delicious fare ranged from entree, main course to dessert in hot, cold, salad, savoury and sweet contexts. It was a different branch of the tofu restaurant I had encountered and liked very much on the Matsumae Study Tour so I was delighted that Mum and Dad could experience the same temple food and tasty local produce. Kyoto tofu is said to be a speciality and naturally Kyoto-ites claim that theirs is much nicer than the saltier tofu made in Tokyo! It involved tofu on skewers (barbequed), tofu in hot broth, tofu salad (cold), tofu with miso (fermented soy), tofu dessert with sesame flavour - oishii!

Kiyomizu-dera (Pure Water Temple) was founded in 780 AD and still functions as a temple associated with the Hosso sect of Japanese Buddhism. The present buildings date from 1633. Kiyomizu-dera's architecture has been imitated all over Japan. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. The expression "to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu" is the Japanese equivalent of the English expression "to take the plunge." It is notable for its vast veranda, supported by hundreds of wooden pillars, that offers beautiful views of the city.

The Nishijin Textile weaving centre was holding a 'fashion show' of young flawless maidens prancing about gracefully and slowly in voluminous, extravagant kimonos woven, painted or embroidered in the Nishijin style. These were too glamorous for my taste: those sort of one-off, once in a life-time outfits that undoubtedly were worth a fortune. more fascinating were the artisans upstairs working physically hard to manoeuvre the looms through large ancient machinery of weaving, 100+ year old looms and a machine that fed through a punch-card pattern much like an ancient IBM computer or pianola operated by a dainty young lady whose full bodily force was required for the equivalent action to a 'carriage return'. sitting unperturbed in the sale floor, these people demonstrated the same methods that have been used for centuries to produce the ornate kimono fabrics in which Kyoto is the epicentre of the universe and at one time it was the ubiquitous garb. Still, a surprising number of women wear kimonos for daily life, dining, shopping, etc. despite its apparent delicacy.

Next we visited Aizan-kobo natural indigo dyeing in the home of Kenichi Utsuki. He was such a humble, modest, quietly-spoken and knowledgeable man. A true artisan, carrying on the tradition of his family over 3 generations in Kyoto. His family worked with the purely natural dye of the real indigo plant and its fermentation in traditional manner for weeks at a luke warm temperature to achieve the balance of fermentation (like wine making) and numerous dyeings of fabrics to achieve the dark eggplant purple/blue colour that Japan is famous for. In addition to blues, various purples, yellow, pink and green are achieved by varying the process and times and repetitions. Kenichi Utsuki is a true craftsmen and purveyor of antiquities, crafts and arts, appreciator of the carefully crafted Mingei with a collection of ceramics, paintings, objects and artefacts in his traditional Kyoto home that reflect his heritage and life-long commitment to the craft. The home itself is a beautiful centuries-old traditional Kyoto building with cedar/cypress floor timber, tatami and an enclosed courtyard garden. Now his son, Norito, continues the family dyeing tradition using Kyoto natural fabric pigmentation. Many quicker artificial methods have subsequently been invented but Kenichi maintains they don't have comparable longevity, quality or depth of colour. His indigo garments last more than twenty years - a fact I can try to test with the worker's jacket I bought to play shakuhachi in! Indigo has other intriguing characteristics, such as its non-flammability, hence it is used to make firemen's outfits in Japan, a fact he demonstrated by setting alight indigo dyed fabric which, indeed, didn't shrivel, melt or burn like synthetic fabrics. Another attribute is that it's said to deter insects, mosquitoes and serpents while working in the field or paper-eating parasites for important documents of nobility that were historical written on indigo parchment and successfully preserved for over a thousand years without deterioration. So far, I have not found it adequate for deterring snakes or mosquitoes but as he cunningly pointed out, it must be covering the area to work!