SOBA & THEATRE, Izushi (出石), Hyogo (兵庫), Japan
After visiting the castle ruins, we returned to the old town of Izushi (出石城下町) and wandered around the Shinkoro Clock Tower (辰鼓楼). Built in 1871, Shinkoro Clock Tower is considered to be the oldest Japanese style clock tower. Next to the clock tower, we picked Kogetsudo Uchibori Store (湖月堂 内堀店) for a meal of the famous Izushi sara soba (buckwheat noodles in small plates). Washing down the soba with the delicious dashi sauce and local sake turned out to be one of the highlight dining experiences of our trip. Unlike the soba in the rest of Japan, Izushi soba is served in five sara (small plates) and a dashi dipping sauce (soup made from fish and kelp), mixed with raw egg and spices. It is said that Izushi sara soba was originated in the 18th century by fusing soba making techniques of two different clans. The unique Izushi soba soon became popular in the region. To enhance the unique dining experience, the community started producing Izushi yaki, a white and blue porcelain set specifically for their soba. Each of the 40+ soba restaurants in Izushi has its own unique Izushi yaki and sara soba. Too bad we didn’t have time to try them all out.
After the amazing soba, we lingered in the town centre and slowly found our way towards Eirakukan Kabuki Theatre (出石永楽館). Built in 1901, Eirakukan Kabuki Theatre is probably the oldest surviving theatre in Northern Kansai specialized in Kabuki. Listed as an UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, Kabuki (歌舞伎) is a unique performing art form originated in Kyoto during the early Edo period (1603 – 1867). We never got a chance to watch a Kabuki performance or visit a Kabuki theatre, despite passing by Kengo Kuma’s Kabuki-za (歌舞伎座) in Ginza a few times during our Tokyo visits. This time in Izushi, we were pleased to have the opportunity to visit Eirakukan Kabuki Theatre, especially knowing that the theatre was restored and reopened to the public in 2008 after a 44-year closure. After taking off our shoes at the entry, we were free to roam around the seating decks, wooden stage and backstage area. Walking on the age-old wooden floor in just our socks felt homey and pleasant. Kabuki performances are well known for having actors appearing on stage in surprises. Standing at the audience deck, we could imagine actors suddenly come close to the audience via the raised walkway hanamichi (花道), or doing theatrical tricks with the mawari-butai (revolving stage). After visiting the theatre, it was time for us to return to Toyooka and continued our journey to Kinosaki Onsen.
OASES IN THE CULTURAL DESERT, Hong Kong Arts Centre (香港藝術中心) & Academy of Performing Arts (香港演藝學院), Wan Chai (灣仔), Hong Kong
When I was a kid, my parents used to take me to the children art workshops at Hong Kong Arts Centre (香港藝術中心) in Wanchai. I don’t remember much about my earliest ”artworks”, but I do remember bits and pieces about the Arts Centre building in the 1980’s: ceiling consisted of small triangles, exposed yellow air ducts, staircase with yellow handrails spiraling up the atrium which took me forever to climb. Today, after series of renovations, the iconic yellow ductwork and stair handrails are gone, but the Arts Centre remains as a prominent non-government institution for art exhibitions, theatre shows, film screenings, and children workshops. As a competitive commercial city where people spent most of their time working to earn a living, Hong Kong is reputed for being a cultural desert. In the 1970’s, some Hongkongers tried to do something to advocate the development of art and culture, including the late architect Tao Ho (何弢). Graduated from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, Ho studied and worked under Walter Gropius, the master of Modernist architecture and founder of the Bauhaus School in prewar Germany. Tao Ho returned to Hong Kong and established TaoHo Design Architects in 1968. In 1971, Tao Ho, Bill Bailey and King-man Lo came together to form the organization Hong Kong Arts Centre. After negotiations with the government and series of fundraising campaigns, construction of the building began in 1975 and completed in 1977. As chief architect, Tao Ho’s challenge was enormous. In a 10,000sf triangular site, Ho needed to incorporate galleries, theatre, rehearsal rooms, auditoriums, classrooms, restaurants, offices, and a four-storey atrium plus disabled facilities (first in Hong Kong) within a 16-storey building, all under a limited budget from donors. A triangular system was adopted from spatial planning, structural modules to facade treatment. From the use of functional forms, simple colour scheme, industrial materials, holistic design language, to incorporating geometric shapes into architecture, the spirit of Bauhaus is clearly shown. Since opening, Hong Kong Arts Centre has become a cultural icon in the city, exhibiting works by masters like Paul Klee and Zao Wou Ki as well as supporting the local art scenes. Before his death in 2019, Tao Ho was also responsible for a number of design projects in Hong Kong and China, including Hong Kong Pavilion for the 1986 World Expo in Vancouver, Tsuen Wan MTR Station, renovation of Hong Kong Governor House, Panda Pavilion in Ocean Park, Wing Kwong Pentecostal church, the Bauhinia emblem and the Hong Kong flag, etc.
In 2019, we finally got a chance to visit Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts (HKAPA-香港演藝學院) to watch 887, a solo play by renowned playwright, actor and stage director Robert Lepage from Quebec. Before the show, we wandered a little bit in the atrium hall, where a model of the building complex was on display, showing the two triangular blocks: the academy and theatre blocks separated by a driveway. Serving as both the main campus for performing arts education and a venue for theatre performances, the HKAPA has been a prominent establishment in Hong Kong since 1985. It was founded as the city’s only place that offers professional education on music, dance, drama, technical arts, film and television. Equipped with state of the art acoustics and stage equipment, its Lyric Theatre and other performance halls have served the audience well throughout the last three decades. Like the Arts Centre across the street, HKAPA was conceptualized during the reformative decade of Governor Murray MacLehose (麥理浩), who dramatically improved the social welfare of Hongkongers by introducing new ordinances and policies, and boldly transformed the city into a diverse metropolis with a wide range of public projects, from the metro system to satellite towns, country parks to the Ocean Park (amusement park), Jubilee Sport Centre to the HKAPA. In 1981, architect Simon Kwan (關善明) won the design competition for HKAPA. Restricted by underground utilities, Kwan uses a driveway to break the complex into two triangular volumes, academy and administrative block on one side and theatre block on the other.
DAY 2 (2/6): KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan, 2016.12.04
The Kiyomizu-dera in early morning offered quite a big contrast compared to our previous night visit. Tranquility replaced commotion of excited crowds. Soft sunlight took over artificial floodlights. After entering the Nio-men Gate (仁王門), we walked up to the main temple platform along with several local visitors. To avoid the tourist crowds coming in an hour or so, we first made our way to the Hondo (本堂), or the Main Hall. At the entrance of the wooden Kiyomizu Stage (清水の舞台), we tried lifting the displayed Steel Geta and Steel Shakujou, two Buddhist objects dedicated to Benkei (武蔵坊弁慶), a 12th century warrior monk who was famous for his loyalty and strength. We could lift up the lighter Shakujou (12 kg/26 lbs), but definitely not the heavy Geta (90 kg/ 198 lbs). We wandered on the wooden stage for a while, and went over to the deck of Okunoin Hall for an overview of the Main Hall, the colourful autumn maples and the distant skyline of Kyoto.
A flight of stone steps adjacent to the Main Hall led us to the popular Jishu Shrine (地主神社), a Shinto shrine dedicated to Okuninushi no Mikoto (大国主命), a deity of love and matchmaking. Perched above the thatched roof of the Main Hall, the Jishu Shrine is consisted of a cluster of small shrines around a main shrine. The shrine is popular for lonely hearts who are seeking for real love, as well as couples who are praying for consolidation of their relationships. At the forecourt of Jishu, two rocks stand 18m apart from each other. Legend said that if one can walk from one rock to the other with their eyes shut, then their wishes for love would come true. Names of donors from all over Japan and foreign countries are displayed inside and outside the shrine, indicating just how universal a simple wish for love is. Apart from love, visitors also come to pray for good fortunate and safety for their family, and smooth delivery for their babies.
As we descended back to the Main Hall, the sun had finally moved above the mountain and shined on the temple buildings. We made a detour to the temple forecourt for a few more pictures of the buildings under the morning sun. We then walked south towards the small Koyasu-no-to Pagoda, or Easy Child-birth Pagoda, at the far end of the valley. Standing right by the Koyasu-no-to Pagoda and looked across the valley, we had a great view of the Kiyomizu-dera as the shadow of eastern mountains gradually receded. We continued down the valley path to the base of Kiyomizu Stage, where we encountered multiple groups of school students who came for a school trip with their teachers and tour guides. A large group of the school students gathered at the Otowa Waterfall, waiting for their turn to taste the sacred water from one of the three waterfall streams. Given the super long queue, we gave up the idea of trying it ourselves. After a night stroll and an early morning visit, we truly enjoyed Kiyomizu-dera with its magnificent timber architecture, spiritual atmosphere, natural setting, and views of the city. It was time for us to move on to other places in Higashiyama and Gion before the afternoon rain arrived.
We entered the temple from the main gate of Nio-men (仁王門) and walked up to the main temple platform.
Visitors tried to lift the Steel Geta (90 kg/ 198 lbs) and Steel Shakujou (12 kg/ 26 lbs) at the entrance of Kiyomizu Stage.
The Main Hall and Stage of Kiyomizu-dera would soon be covered in scaffolding for a major renovation.
The crimson maples in front of the Kiyomizu Stage offered a poetic sense of autumn.
There were only several local visitors around, allowing us to enjoy the temple peacefully.
It was well past the peak moment but the autumn foliage was still a major enhancement to our visit of Kiyomizu-dera.
Out the wooden balustrade, we could see the small Koyasu-no-to Pagoda at the far end of the valley.
Autumn colours at the valley below Kiyomizu Stage.
The Main Hall and Kiyomizu Stage as seen from the deck of Okunoin Hall.
Close up of the structure of Kiyomizu Stage and the valley path.
The stair that led us up to the Jishu Shrine, a sacred place for worshipers seeking for fortune of love.
One of the two love stones in the forecourt of Jishu Shrine.
The main shrine of Jishu Shrine was covered with names of donors.
One of the several small shrines at Jishu Shrine where worshipers can make a variety of prayers and wishes, from good fortune to smooth childbirth.
Okuninushi no Mikoto, the deity of love and matchmaking, and his messager the rabbit.
Kyodo, the Sutra Hall and Sanjunoto, the Three-storey Pagoda under the morning sun.
The morning warmed up as the shadow of the eastern mountains receded from the autumn maples below Kiyomizu Stage.
Not until we reached the far end of the valley that we realized the Koyasu-no-to Pagoda, or Easy Child-birth Pagoda, was actually quite small.
Overview of Kiyomizu-dera as seen from Koyasu-no-to Pagoda.
The valley path below Kiyomizu Stage was packed with school groups.
Many students were interested for a sip of the sacred water at the Otowa Waterfall.
It was already 9:30am when we left Kiyomizu-dera.
Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan