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Kiyoumizu in Kyoto

JAPAN | Wednesday, 23 March 2016 | Views [560]

On Friday we had a class excursion to Kyoto to make pottery. I love that that's a thing we can do. Not the pottery so much as just going to Kyoto for a class excursion. My parents were notably less thrilled about the entire thing, and advised me to “make something small.”

We got on a series of trains to bring us to Kyoto while I started Beauty and Sadness, the novel by Yasunari Kawabata. Fittingly enough, that work began on a train to Kyoto. (I'd read it before, just forgotten many of the details. And to be honest, the generalities. Basically, I remembered something about Kyoto and new year's bells and art, and it had seemed like a good title.) In Kyoto, the task of navigating fell to me since Yamaguchi-sensei wanted one of the students to navigate, and Dan didn't have the address on his phone. So yay.

The pottery lesson began with pretty brief self-introductions. The potter had dealt with our kind (CET classes before) and knew roughly what to expect. Basically, give sufficient demonstrations of what we're supposed to do and lack of Japanese abilities aren't an issue. Skip the visual step and even if we were fluent in Japanese, it would be hard to understand what we were doing.

What we were doing was making a base, then rolling decently thick ropes of clay and adding it to what we already had. So layer by layer the cups grew, until eventually they were large enough and we could decorate them. It wasn't the most thrilling thing ever, and they all turned out rather lopsided, but it was enjoyable enough. Once the first ones were done, we had more free reign for what we wanted the second to be. I made another cup under the theory one of them has to turn out well, and Dan and Yamaguchi-sensei made plates. Then for the third piece, Yamaguchi-sensei and I made plates, or at least plate-like things, and Dan made a cup. Then we washed our hands, choose glazes, and got a cup of tea and more information on kiyoumizu pottery.

Unfortunately, the information he gave was delivered very quickly and almost exclusively to Yamaguchi-sensei. It was like he gave up on our ability to understand anything in Japanese when we didn't understand him when he was asking where we were from, and decided there wasn't much point in talking to anyone but Yamaguchi-sensei about sophisticated things like kiyoumizu pottery. Even more unfortunately, Yamaguchi-sensei was expecting us to pick up information from this speech and use it in the essay we had to write as homework. I tried, but the only points I managed to pick up were the points I'd already found when looking it up online. Like it varied a lot from artist to artist so there weren't really any defining characteristics. (One of the questions on the worksheet we'd needed to answer for Friday had been “what are the defining characteristics of kiyoumizu pottery?”)


Once that was over, we moved on to other topics the potter trusted us to be able to discuss in Japanese. Like food. He asked what our favorite kind of Japanese food was. And as I scrambled for an answer, I realised something. I was doing a study abroad in Osaka. For the rest of my life I would be able to say “well, I spent a semester in Osaka while I was in college, so probably okonomiyaki.” And anyone who is not familiar with regional variations of food in Japan will look kind of confused, but anyone who is will go “ah, soo.” And I never need to stress about how to answer that question again.

Dan's thought process had fun along a parallel line, and he also responded “okonomiyaki.” So the potter went “ah, Osaka people” and drew us a map to a nearby famous okonomiyaki restaurant.

It was a good thing we had the map, because otherwise it's unlikely we would have made the right turns. The first few were straightforward enough, then we had to turn into an alley that looked like a driveway. Between the map and the sign pointing, we were relatively sure we were in the right place, but it still felt super sketchy.

The restaurant was apparently famous, with signed photographs around the room. I didn't recognize any of the photographs or signatures, but Yamaguchi-sensei recognized a few.


City loyalty prevents me from saying anything more than that the okonomiyaki was good for Kyoto, but not as good as it is in Osaka.

On the way to and from lunch, we passed a store with earrings that I wanted. They had earrings made from old Japanese postage stamps and they were super cute. But Yamaguchi-sensei was looking at them askance, and I didn't want her judging me. Besides, I didn't want to be the one holding up the group, and I could probably get them elsewhere in Kyoto.

Yamaguchi-sensei walked Dan and I to Sanjuusan-gendo temple, and then she left to go do something. Dan and I paid and went into the temple, which is famous for its 1,019 statues. 1,000 of them are the same, then 19 are guardians which are each unique and different. About halfway through, we went from quietly looking and reading the descriptions to whispering our commentaries to each other. Things like:

“Why does it seem that half the people either killed snakes or were themselves snakes? What was it with snakes?” or

“She's a mighty female general and here she's shown… praying? She doesn't even get a weapon!”

“To be fair, most of the generals who are described as having weapons do not look like they'd be able to do any damage with them. Like that guy! What is he even supposed to be carrying? It looks like a boomerang.”

By the time we got to the final area, where they described funtime activities of shooting lots of arrows, we were less impressed by the numbers and more by the fact that this was a funtime activity. For girls and boys!

“Why would you put on your best kimono to fire a bow?”

“It's not like these were the day-long 10,000 arrow competitions. They were much smaller.”

Or the picture from a famous play during that period.

“If you gave me 100 guesses, I would never have gotten that meaning.”

“What, you wouldn't have guessed that the woman was about to be turned back into a tree because of something her husband did?”

“Well, that to. But I would not have even gotten that she's upset to me leaving her son. She doesn't look very upset.”


For some reason, given the snarky mood we finished that temple in, we still decided it was worth going to another one. Maybe it was because Yamaguchi-sensei had managed to bring up Kiyoumizu Temple at least three times in two days and had expressed her disappointment neither of us had been. And it was totally an option while we were in Kyoto… so off we went.

Kiyoumizu Temple is reachable from Sanjuusan-gendo Temple by walking. It’s not too bad a walk if you ask for directions before climbing up a steep incline only to learn it doesn’t connect and you need to go down and up again.

On the way, we saw… this place.


I’m not sure what it was, but I liked it. It was beautiful, quiet, free, and would make a good place to read. This isn’t just my projecting “good place to read” on basically every place that’s light and dry- other people agreed.


Kiyoumizu Temple was large, pretty, and crowded. Dan chose to pay to go in, and I took the description (“historic temple with picturesque views”) at face value and wandered around just admiring the views. Dan later said that it was big, but not all that impressive as a temple. No Fushimi Inari or Kinkakuji (two temples that I have yet to go to and really should. And then should resist the urge to burn down the latter for the literary reference.)

Beautiful scenery

Beautiful Temple


With the advantage of working cell phones and Dan being a tall blond foreigner amidst a lot of Asian visitors, we found each other without much difficulty. First, though, a group of middle schoolers looking for English-speaking tourists found him. He was telling me about the interview questions they’d asked him when we crossed paths with them again. Dan asked if they needed someone else to ask, and even though they admitted later they’d only needed to ask one person, they still decided asking two would be better so got out their sheets and materials. Reading off what seemed to be a phonetic script, they asked me pretty simple questions about Japan. They were tape-recording me, so even though I was sometimes tempted to answer in Japanese, (as when they wouldn’t understand me and would start discussing their interpretation of what I said in Japanese) I thought of how disappointed Yamaguchi-sensei would be if our roommates started speaking English during our recording homework, so I stuck to English. The middle schoolers were pretty cute, and it was nice to be the helpful foreigner for a change.

Middle schoolers

After that, Dan and I headed back to the station and Osaka. The route back was very much traditional Kyoto, full of pottery (real kiyoumizu pottery!) and kimonos and other crafts. Dan noticed me checking out the earrings and asked “you didn’t want postage stamp earrings?”

“I did actually.”

“So why didn’t you get them?”

“I didn’t want Yamaguchi-sensei judging me.”

Dan found this an immensely amusing reason, especially since Yamaguchi-sensei would be able to tell if I bought a pair of earrings and wore them during the weekdays. But since we were walking right past the place that we had lunch, we were able to stop in and I bought earrings. Three pairs- one pair of the stamp earrings that had brought me into the store, one pair of origami cranes folded out of old Japanese money, (the storekeeper said the bills were 120 years old) and a birthday present for my sister. While I was still trying to decide on the first pair, the owner came over with a simple hair stick as a present. My hair wasn’t even in a bun. (It had been earlier in the day. Then Dan and I had been on the top of a hill without many people and gone racing down it. It was very fun, but my hair didn’t like it.) And, with two pairs of earrings that might make Yamaguchi-sensei judge me if I ever wore them,  (Technically three, but only two of them were staying with me) Dan and I continued our return to Osaka.

I have to get to Kyoto more often.

Tags: kyoto, middle schoolers, namesake, pottery, temple, views

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