Sunday, May 15, 2011

the first week

of work.

Well, 'twas interesting. In a good way! Mostly. Except for the damn toilet. I thought it would get easier to use with practice -- and it sort of has -- my squatting muscles are definitely stronger. However, THERE ARE STILL THE OBVIOUS ISSUES.

I finished the paper tiles on the roof of the model of the Nagoya temple. . . well, sort of. I finished the tiles on the larger model. Unfortunately there was an error in communication between me and my boss on the larger site model with buildings at a smaller scale, so I have to do some more twiddly work to finish it. (Dammit.)

Andrew, the other guy who works in my office, looked at this model and said, "Wow, they're so neat!" Which was a first. . . I don't think anyone's ever accused me of making neat models before. Of course, this has to be balanced against the fact that this office still does a fare amount of hand drafting, which I suck at (though I'm relatively confident I can do it if they ask, so long as they don't mind it taking me a really. long. time.)

The hours are kind of irregular so far. I don't think I've come in for quite the same period of time two days in a row yet. I'm also working Tuesday-Saturday instead of Monday-Friday because my boss teaches at a university (maybe Kyodai?) on Mondays.

I don't want to say just a huge amount about office dynamics/personalities/what-have-you here, because I did that while I worked at Issho. Though I found it amusing and soothing to vent at the time, in retrospect it was a really dumb thing to do and could have backlashed so hard in my face. So. . . more generically: my boss is originally from New York. He's married to a Japanese woman and has a 2-month-old son (who I got to meet on Saturday. I mistook him for a handbag at first, then realized it was a baby sling + baby.) He talks under his breath a lot, including a fair amount of swearing, which since I am secretly ten years old I privately find very funny. My coworker is from California/New Jersey, graduated from Cornell last year with a B.Arch (that's five years and 10 studios for those who don't know), did his thesis on machiya, and has been in Japan for about a year now continuing his research. He comes in four days and week and studies Japanese otherwise, so his Japanese is (I think) quite a bit better than mine? (Well, that wouldn't be super hard. I'm starting to realize the intense anxiety that I have had in the past regarding languages is not really super normal.) He's going to start restoring the lower floor of a house on Imadegawa Street on the other side of the river pretty soon, and I think maybe we will go over and help him plaster and stuff. I kind of hope so, anyway. He's been a regular font of information regarding the house and Kyoto, which is super nice for me.

(This portion is actually taken from an email I sent to someone [ahem, you know who you are], but it was interesting and I didn't care to rewrite it.) I wish I could render to you the amazing explanation of all that had to be done in this building before it was okay to actually work in by my coworker. I think they said it was abandoned shortly after World War II -- like they found this set of sake cups that were given as gifts to those who served in the Japanese navy during WWII in there -- and the whole house was FILLED WITH GARBAGE. The structure had settled to one side and all the columns were crooked and the floor was basically totally rotten and covered in rotten tatami [woven rice mats] and they had to cart all this gross crap off (et tu, flood summer?) and then rip everything off the floors and poke at the walls to see where the plaster was good -- apparently the way Japanese walls are made, they set up the wooden framing, and then they lay down a grid of thin bamboo strips, then a really coarse dirt mixture, which is allowed to dry, then a less coarse mixture with straw in it to hold it together [I may have missed a step], which is what all the walls have now (it's this lovely golden color and slightly rough texture), and then usually fine plaster that's white or colored. Anyway most of the walls were good but they had to patch them, and also jack up the house on one side, and install entirely new floors. Also it's interesting because the beams of the house up above show marks from being used in a different structure, so even though this house is probably 100 years old (so, oops, I messed that up in the one previous entry), the beams are all probably 150 years old. The house smells vaguely of piney wood and plaster all the time, which is very nice. It's a very cool place to work, even during the first few days when I was sitting on the floor on that green pattern cushion, which is called a "zabuton" (which is pretty damn thin.) (Also I learned that the breezeway/hallway is called a "toriniwa," a passage garden. Which conjures up pleasant images of hanging a bunch of potted plants out there. Anyway!) But on Wednesday/Thursday my boss put legs on the short tables so that we can sit on chairs! Ikea chairs. I put one together. Yay for Ikea!

I need to get more disciplined. . . so far I've just been coming home, screwing around the internet, and then going to bed (late), instead of working on my personal projects. Blargh.

Some days we seem to have an hour for lunch, which is actually more than I need because I've been trying to cook mine and bring it, but on the other hand, I think that if I'm going to be there until 8 or 9 anyway I might as well take the whole hour. This is a temple near (really, really near) work, like one block east and one block north. There's another smaller temple (which I'm pretty sure is not associated with this one) directly across the street from the office. I hear bells ringing throughout the day from the temple, which is pretty neat. Less neat are the hoards and hoards of stray cats that run around everywhere and yowl because someone at the temple feeds them. (Though I will admit to being pretty amused by the large orange tom who walked across the temple wall just in my line of vision on Friday morning.)

Looking inside the larger temple. I love seeing tree branch supports because they seem so very Japanese.

It rained for the first four days of the week, then cleared up on Friday and Saturday, which was nice. In Tokyo June was pretty much entirely rainy, so I'd like to get as much pleasant weather in as possible.

On Saturday a television crew from a local (Osaka) channel came into the office late in the afternoon to film some snippets of the office (presumably because an American office that primarily restores traditional housing is an interesting concept?) Anyway, we spent the whole cleaning furiously. I scrubbed the back courtyard area for -- hours? seemed like it -- washed windows (ugh I suck at that), swept and swept, tucked things into the closet, assembled a chair (as aforementioned), and so on and so forth. I also am theoretically going to be on TV for somewhere between 3-10 seconds, though I would guess it will be on the lower end of that spectrum.

It was a grand relief after a long week to get to my weekend on Sunday. I had already made "plans" -- heh, that makes it sound far more serious -- based on the Kyoto Wikipedia article, which told me that the Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival, named for the leaves, not the flowers) was on May 15. The festival is about 1400-1500 years old and consists of a lot of people wearing Heian-era dress parading solemnly through the streets from the Kyoto Imperial Palace to Shimogamo Shrine (which the Wikipedia article gives all kind of rationalizations for the name of, when as far as I can tell from the characters, it just looks to be "Shrine below the Duck River." But you know, I'm probably missing something.) I misread the map and thought the parade was going by on Imadegawa Street, which is just north of where I live.
When I walked out that morning though, there were no parade people on Kawabata Dori (the street parallel to the river on my side) or on Imadegawa.

There were, however, a whole lot of people crossing the river to get the bridge just above Imadegawa. So. . . I got in line and crossed the river too.

I love these stepping stones across the river.

It took some jockeying to find an all right place to stand, as I foolishly did not consider that getting there at 11:20 when the parade was supposed to go by at 11:15 was probably not the best way to ensure that there wouldn't be three people standing in front of me. I had much reason to curse the sun parasols that many Japanese women carry, but luckily most seemed to put them down when the parade actually started. I think I ended up standing by two Dutch tourists and two American ones.

These pictures aren't really in order anymore. The general theory of the procession is that it's headed up by an Imperial Messenger and ended by the Saiō-Dai, a woman who has been ritually purified and in older times would dedicate herself to the shrines at the end of the parade (which, mistake, they go to Shimogamo and then to Kamigamo. Below and above the Duck River, respectively.) Basically it's a huge series of offerings to the Kamo deities to ensure good weather and safe crops, originated after a year of storms more or less wiped out everything.

This is an "oxcart," except I"m pretty sure the ox was just walking along in front, while the twenty people pushing it were actually making it go.

People on horseback are an important part of the procession. Apparently at the shrine after the parade there is a mounted archery contest, which I missed. That made me sad, but the nap I took after the parade did not make me sad.

Many of the dudes were carrying bows and arrows and swords.

There were a couple of really hot, unhappy horses in the parade who clearly would have preferred to be somewhere else.

I'm going to post the women's outfits later, once I've consolidated them into a collage. The problem with standing back a ways is that most of my photos have little bits of people's heads in them, which doesn't make for a very interesting presentation.

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