I thought I’d take a picture of how the street where I work looks. This picture pretty accurately captures Nishiki, and my shop is just a few cross-streets away.
This week felt pretty busy, like it has been for a while now. It always seems like I’m rushing from place to place. But, to be honest, it feels good. I may not have mentioned this, but I feel like I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been. Kyoto is known as “The Walking City.” You might have noticed from my last post, but in a lot of ways Kyoto is actually quite small and quite big. Just the right sizes for walking pretty much everywhere you need to (with a few subway/bus/train hops to get you in the right place).
I’ve been cutting things a little close recently, in the mornings especially, because it’s still pretty hard to get out of bed on account of how cold it is. The past month and a half or so I’ve been running to the train almost every morning. It started as a necessity, but now I actually like it. A nice little jog in the morning. And I’m actually running with a purpose; to get somewhere!
I might just start walking a bit more when I get back the the US (maybe even running). That would be hard, though. You can’t really beat a place called “The Walking City” for ease of pedestrian access. Even if it does sometimes get a little crowded in the small streets and marketplaces, like above.
I liked giving simple job highlights last post, so I think I’ll do that again. Memories from this week:
- Having my picture taken with an American guy who bought saké off me. He said he wanted a picture with the “American Saké Pro” to show his buddies, to prove I existed. He even came back the next day to buy more.
- My favorite and least favorite customers are the ones that, without even blinking, treat me like another Japanese shopkeep. I can usually keep up with the speed at which they talk, but combined with unpredictable accents, personal quirks, and ambient noise, I sometimes have to call in a coworker to talk with them instead. I hate to break the illusion of my proficiency, but sometimes it really is for the best. On the other hand, it always feels like a miracle when I can keep up with one of these people and even get them to buy a bottle or two. I feel like a rock that somehow skipped over to the other side of the river.
- I ended up meeting a middle-school acquaintance of mine’s parents. They were so surprised it seemed like they took a picture almost on reflex. I wouldn’t have known there was a connection if I hadn’t idly asked where they were from, though.
- Proudest moment(s): when a large tourist group comes by, invariably lead by a Japanese guide carrying a small flag or pole. It seems to take a bit of pressure off of them once they see that I’m a foreigner and also knowledgeable about saké. But the best part is when I also have to interact with Japanese customers while the tour group is still trying samples. The guide starts translating me! Into English! What a rush. Think about that. I’ve finally integrated enough that I too have to be translated and explained in order to understand me. I, too, have become a sometimes object of fascination.
- When an older Japanese man came up to the stand and I offered him a sample. He looked a bit glum, but when he looked up and saw my face a huge smile spread across his face. He said in [loud] English: “How strange! You are the only person who is not Japanese here! Look at her, she’s Japanese!” He pointed to my older coworker, who chuckled worriedly. “Look at them, they’re Japanese!” He pointed to our other customers. He furrowed his brow now, still smiling: “Very strange! You’re very strange! You’re an exception!” Yes I am, nice older Japanese man. And so are you. It is funny, though, how older Japanese men all seem to speak English in this way. Very big smiles, very big voices, big facial expressions. I wonder if this is how Americans seem…
I decided to try and find my tea ceremony sensei’s tea implement shop the other day. It’s a shop that caters specifically to my school of tea, and the owner actually practices tea with me and sensei on occasion. I saved the wrapper from my fukusa because it had the address of the shop on it. So I thought. It instead had the address of the owner’s actual house. I didn’t feel like knocking on his door unannounced, so I walked back through Arashiyama to the train station. It was nice to be back again. I’d also never been to this part of Arashiyama before; only to the more popular train stop.
Next to the train stop I remembered that there was a verry big-looking shrine. I had to check out a shrine by myself as part of a homework assignment anyway, so I went through the torii gate.
It was a great chance find. Most shrines in Japan enshrine just a few kami: Tenjin, a god of knowledge and academics; Inari, a god of agriculture, industry and general good luck [of Fushimi Inari]; and Hachiman, a god of archery, war, and protector of the Minamoto clan. These are some of the most popular kami in Japan, and are mostly who I see enshrined in Kyoto–especially in the bigger shrines.
However, Matsuo Taisha enshrines three lesser-known deities, and is known especially for its connections to saké. As in, like, it’s the saké shrine. In fact, my saké company sells what it calls Arashiyama saké, mostly because the area is so well-known for sake brewing.
So, I of course went to the main alter (shown above) and prayed a bit for the company and our saké. It’s a really beautiful shrine. Quiet, too. I didn’t have too much time to spend there, though, so I got my goshuincho stamp and went to leave. It turns out that this shrine was actually instrumental in shifting the ancient capital from Nagaokakyo (where I currently live with my homestay) to Kyoto. This also makes it really old. Older than Kyoto itself, really.
The other day, I was working with one of my older co-workers when she suddenly asked me which saké bottle I bought when I first chanced on the shop and introduced myself.
“Ah. I knew it. It was a gift from the gods, wasn’t it? You coming here?”
Maybe it was. Maybe my trip to Matsuo Taisha was as well. It’s hard to tell sometimes, where divine intervention fits into life’s strange combination of hard work and chance. It seems to be easier to find in retrospect.
Regardless, life seems to find a way of collecting all that unpredictability into a couple of chance coincidences. It seems to be a bit reliable in that way.
Till next time,