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Kyoto, Summer, 2010

Kyoto Panorama
Panorama of Kyoto

Three Silent Video/Movement Poems

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The Beginning

It all began with an Email exchange at Mass College of Art.

To: MassArt Faculty
From: Kay Sloan, President
Subject: Kyoto Higher Education Consortium

In August, we welcomed special guests from Kyoto, Japan, to MassArt and to the Colleges of the Fenway. The highlight of their visit to Boston was the formal signing of an umbrella agreement between the Kyoto Higher Education Consortium and the Colleges of the Fenway. The mayor of Kyoto, the Honorable Daisaku Kadokawa, and Dr. Eiji Hatta, president of the consortium and of Doshisha . . .
Please let me or Johanna Branson know if you have any existing connection with Kyoto colleges or universities or if you would like to be a part of any further planning that we do in regard to developing student and/or faculty exchanges.

Kay Katherine Sloan President
Hi Natalie,

I have saved this email from Kay since september because I am really interested in exploring some kind of faculty/student performance exchange, if there is a college in Kyoto that has a performance program. Perhaps I should email Johanna directly. Faculty development grants are available and due jan. 19. I was thinking of applying for some money to go there and meet with people and see what might be set up as an exchange of some kind. However, I don't have a clue where to start. Do you?? Obviously, I'd need to establish some contacts in a timely fashion because the grant application is due very soon.

Happy New Year to you!

Hi Dawn,

I'm excited to hear of your interest in a faculty/student performance exchange in Kyoto. The COF-Kyoto Higher Ed Consortium is overseen by the Colleges of the Fenway. I am forwarding your message to Robin Melavalin, director the COF Global Education Opportunities Center, as I believe she would be the best contact person on this.

A group of representatives from Kyoto are coming to visit the colleges on January 21 and 22. Robin and I just spoke today about the schedule for this visit and it will include an opportunity for those faculty who are interested in exchanges to come and meet the representatives. They do want to talk with folks interested in student and faculty exchanges. Michele Furst is the MassArt rep on the committee working to identify opportunities that can come out of this agreement. I believe that Michele should have copies of some of the catalogues they gave us during their last visit, which includes listings of all the colleges, their majors, etc.



So we were off and six months later we were flying to Osaka to spend three wqeeks in Kyoto to talk to some colleges and make some videos.

First Part - July 8 -July 20

Yesterday was Sunday, July 11 and Dawn decided to go across the alley. We had been told that it was a small store/workshop where a woman made and sold clothing made from used kimonos and yukatas (summer kimonos). Dawn is looking for some material to use as wrapping for her body when she makes her video poems in temple gardens.Across the Alley

We were also told that she did not speak any English.

Dawn saw that she was open, but by the time she got ready, the place seemed closed. Later, her sign came out again and Dawn screwed up her courage to go over again and this time I said I would accompany her and bring the laptop.

We knocked on the door, said one or two of our survival phrases (though we forgot the most obvious one) and she invited us in. Off with the shoes and on with the slippers that waited by the door and we entered a small shop with two rooms with beautiful clothes hanging on display. We were going to try to communicate with Google translator and it worked, in one direction. I could type in the English and she could read the Japanese that Google produced.

Of course, the plot thickened. I was not accustomed to such linguistic incapability, since many of our recent travels have been in France where I can get along. We showed her the video of "Haiku" so she could get the idea of what we're trying to do here. She "oohed and "ahhed" and seemed to appreciate the work; then I ran back across the alley to get the letter of introduction, in Japanese, that Junko (a lovely woman on staff of Showa Boston) had written on my behalf. We decided to return at a future time; didn't want her to think that we wouldn' t buy anything, but had difficulty establishing when she'd be open. She insisted on calling our Australian landlord, who speaks Japanese, for some translation. I didn't want to bother him, but...


Before this I had been running the computer at our house without the AC adapter, so in the middle of all this we ran out of power. I had to run back to our place to get our power adaptor.

This meant:

I had to take my slippers off and put my shoes on

so I could run across the alley to

take off my shoes and put a different pair of slippers on

to walk on our tatamis to get the adapter, go back to the door so

I could take my slippers off and put my shoes on

retrace the seven steps across the alley

where I took my shoes off, put the first pair of slippers back on again

and then plug in the computer which had suspended in the middle of Haiku.

Shoren-in Screens

Camphor Tree

 We have visited four temples/gardens so far. More on that later. Shoren-in Temple brought tears to my eyes:  the proportions seemed perfect: of pond, garden, rock, plants, and the framing of the views by the beautifully painted sliding rice paper doors.; an 800-year old camphor tree at the entrance! Must run now as we will do Zazen this morning at Shunko-in Temple, spend the day there, stay overnight, and tomorrow we hope to shoot footage for a silent video/movement poem in their garden.




We got back today from our first two days of shooting video at the Shunko-in, a Zen Buddhist temple that had been recommended to us by Peter Grilli at the Japan Society of Boston.  More about that later. Tonight we find the map that Rory, our landlord, had left for us that allows us to find a restaurant that he had recommended to us on our first day and now are off to have dinner. We are walking in the rain because this is the rainy season, but it is only five minutes before we find the restaurant.  The name out front has a Chinese character (kanji) followed by -boo, so we figured we are in the right place.  We slide open the rice paper screen and see a bar for twelve or so people  curving around a small kitchen.  We are shown to our seats at the bar and given hot wet washcloths to refresh ourselves before our meal.  We are given a menu in English that explains the dishes and also says that while they don't speak English we should feel welcome here. Japanese fusion would be a good beginning as a description of the place. 

This is what we ate:

A green salad filled with sashimi (raw fish) .  It came on a beautiful plate with a small bamboo bowl on one side stacked with a different salad.

A bowl of Bok Choi with scallops. It came with two small bowls, a wooden ladle, and two wooden spoons.  I ladled out the food and it was delicious

Then we decided on beef of some kind and a skillet of potatoes with Parmesan (very unjapanese)  I used the verb osusume about the beef to ask the waiter to recommend what beef dish, and he served  us a plate of raw beef cubes and vegetable and placed a small brazier and bamboo coals between us and placed a hot skillet with  melted butter on it.  Again I cooked and served.

We accompanied our meal with a couple of Kirins.
All the plates and bowls were original and unique pottery or bamboo, hand-carved.  The food was amazing, which was great because we hadn't been having such great luck with food. A young woman sitting two seats to Stephen's left smiled at us and showed us a very funny and useful comic book guide to Japanese food for English speakers. She was the first Japanese stranger to smile and actually extend herself to us. As the evening developed, it turns out that she thought Stephen's voice sounded just like Eric Clapton's. She was clearly captivated by Stephen.  She did speak some English, and we heard about her time in NYC and London in the fashion industry.  Then a gentleman showed up and sat next to her. They conversed, and he said to us in English, "She thinks Japanese men are all male chauvinist pigs!" Perhaps she made this remark because she was shocked that Stephen did the little grilling and serving of the food, and he served me first. In Japan, women always doing the cooking and ordering and serve the men first.

 Her name wass Kumiko.

Dawn didn't hear it, but she commented on how beautiful Dawn was.  She thought our chopstick work was admirable also.  The man and I talked about Zen and sitting and I told him that I was brought to Zen partially through my reading of a book on Quantum Mechanics called "The Wu LI Dancing Masters."  He brought out a small notebook and asked me to write down the name of the book.

Dawn and StephenIn the middle of all this, after presenting us with a bamboo shoot full of very good sake and a glass of French wine, the young owner gave us two fans that had been made by his father out of bamboo for which the restaurant is named.   We wanted to buy some more because they were so beautiful, so he got on the phone and said that we could have them in five days.  So we will return next week to pick up our fans, but certainly will return before then for another meal.

 On the way out,  I nearly got a hug from Kumiko.

A fun evening.

Yes, Kumiko was the most effusive (and slightly drunk) Japanese
woman I have ever met.  She was on the verge of hugging both of us and said. "I want to see you again.”
Stephen:The Staff

 We returned to Bamboo Sunday night.  We had said we would and we needed to pick up the fans that we ordered.  Luck has a lot to do with what happens to you are traveling. More akin to pinball than some strategy game like Go. The first night had been fun and magical.  What would happen now? I think it is the Japanese-English food translating picture book than the owner brings out for us when we come in.  It seems to attract attention.  Before long, the young couple next to us is exclaiming over it and trying out their English.  Again the conversation, exchange of food and sake.  This time picture taking.  Toward the end of all this we get a phone call from Kumiko, the owner handed Dawn a portable phone, and she said she was coming right over.

The fans have been brought out, and we examined one or two.  They are beautiful.  When Kumiko comes in, she seems to want to look at more and we get to see more.  She hands the owner the task of getting them wrapped up again.  The food is good again.  The sake is tasty.  In the photo, those tubes are the bamboo containers for the sake.  He keeps them in the freezer until they are served. We finally say good bye to all.  Our fans are added to our dinner bill, which we pay with a credit card, a rare occurrence in Kyoto which seems to be a cash society.

The young woman in the couple is named Yukiko. We didn't get her boyfriend's name.  He took a picture of Stephen surrounded by Kumiko, Yukiko, and myself. Stephen will probably attach this photo. It was quite the intergenerational, international bevy of women around him!  We also got a wonderful shot of the two cooks and the server. They are a handsome and congenial group.

Young Couple Stephen with the women


Monday morning.

I loaded the camera and tripod, some costumes for Dawn, and we grabbed the bus for Honen-in. We arrived early enough to sit and meditate for 10 minutes or so at their front gate. I would not have been able to do this trip without meditation. I would have gotten way too attached to what I thought we were trying to do, instead of being in the present moment with a slight awareness of your plans.

Good thing, because when we finally made our presence known, they did not seem to be aware that we were coming and after some halting discussion in English we decided that we would come back tomorrow... (It was some kind of Holiday that we were not aware of, but, like many many things on this trip, we did not really understand the reasons, we just went along.)

Tuesday (next day)

We were invited in and escorted to the back garden. We got the sense that that was a function (lunch) around noon and we decided that we would be done be then. Dawn and I practiced making these kind of videos in Boston before we came on this trip and I am very glad we did. The rhythm of deciding on movement, framing, exposure and shooting tests and having Dawn come back and look at takes and reshooting the good parts had been learned in Boston over a number of days shooting in Westwood and the practice made a lot more efficient.
The approach to Honen-in
The view from the entrance
In the back

Video still
A video still from Honen-in

Second Part, Arashiyama, July 21 - 23

Third Part

TaizoPeople have been generally wonderful here in Japan. Kyoto is reputed to be more conservative and reserved than say Tokyo, but I am amazed when I think of the number of people, all in various positions, who have been so generously helpful to us. For example, at Taizo-in Temple, we met with yet another wonderful young abbot, Daiko Matsuyama, who allowed us to use their incredible waterfall garden during public hours, and invited us to return when the temple was closed for some better shots. What a privilege to be in that venerable and beautiful space, by ourselves, as the sun was going down. (I do need to ask a Buddhist priest if mosquitoes are considered sentient beings...)

An exchange of emails

Dear Matsuyama-sensei,

We are leaving Japan on Thursday and want to thank you again for our time at Taizo-in Temple. Being there alone in the garden last night as the sun was setting was a beautiful experience. It's been a fascinating visit, and I hope our video work will do honor to the locations in which we were privileged to shoot. As mentioned, we were at Shunkoin Temple earlier in our stay and met your friend Takafumi Kawakami-sensei. Both of you are doing wonderful work, connecting Buddhism to contemporary life and welcoming non-Japanese speakers., which we thank your for.

It will be awhile before we assemble and edit the video we shot here in Kyoto. When we do, we will send a "private" link to you, Kawakami-san, and Kajita-san (or his wife) at Honen-in so that you can approve the work before we show it to the public. Also, you can then let us know how you would like to be acknowledged in the credits.

Domo arigatou gazaimasu. I hope our paths will cross again.

Best regards,
Dawn & Stephen
Dear Dawn & Stephen Sensei

Thank you very much for coming to the temple the other day. I feel very happy to hear that you liked here. I hope you have completed your job and look forward to seeing your masterpiece on the website.

Thank you again and take care of yourself.

Best regards ~~~~~~~~~~~
Taizoin Zen Buddhism Temple Yokoso!
Japan Ambassador Rev. Daiko Matsuyama
35 Myoshinji-cho Hanazono Ukyo-Ward
Kyoto city, 616-8035 JAPAN
info@taizoin.com http://www.taizoin.com/en/


"Yurosku Onegaishimas" is the phrase that you use as part of introducing oneself in Japan.  It is hard to translate but it thanks the person you are meeting for favors that they may do for you in the future. Favors or requests are taken very seriously here.  We asked our host, Miho, the sister of the owner of Maeniiya, of our last machiya in Kyoto

Living Room
Our last place in Kyoto, (see http://www.maeniiya.com/e_greeting.html)

where we might buy some rope that we see tied to tori and wrapped around rocks.  She said that there is lots in the country, but it is not a city item, but a few hours later she emailed us a Google map with a store on it that would sell it to us.  She also offered to take us there.  We of course refused as it seemed beyond the call of duty.  Here, every request gets a response.

I have learned to listen for the "no". You won't hear it spoken, but you can sort of feel it.  It might be the pauses.  An example: When I was trying to arrange video times in the temple gardens, at first I asked if we could come tomorrow morning and when I felt the pause I rephrased the questions to "What would be the best time for you?" (This of course is all in English, perhaps more later about our Japanese) and got the answer that this evening would be best.  It was probably not polite of me to ask a question where one of the answers might be "no".


This visit and video-making would not have happened if it weren't for:
Junko-san's (Showa, Boston) wonderful letter of introduction, written in Japanese,
Yamamoto-san's phone calls (He's from the Kyoto Consortium of Colleges),
Yamazaki-san from the Kyoto city government (She met us at the gate of the temple yesterday),
the 'stimulus" grant from MassArt, etc.....Plus many others who have helped us, like
Kiranada who wrote a letter of introduction to Honen-in Temple,
Stephen Richmond,
Ken Furudate, from DOTS
Koichi Nishi,
Peter Grilli (Japan Society, Boston)
and the list goes on.
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