We spent our last day in Kyoto visiting a wide range of places. Our first stop was to the University of Kyoto’s Equestrian Center. In the middle of the University grounds, in the middle of the city, is a 16-stall barn and a sand arena, and a small but dedicated equestrian team. Every university in Japan has a team, and there are four teams in Kyoto alone, so the interscholastic competition is lively. They do dressage, jumping and eventing, and most of the horses are retired race horses. Having grown up riding slow Thoroughbreds in their second careers, I reminisce about my childhood.
We then cab across town to the Nishiki market. Part of downtown Kyoto is a pedestrian mall. Some of it look similar to shopping malls everywhere, but for the most part it is a traditional market, all about food and drink and flowers and trinkets. Fresh fish. Dried fish. Fish flakes. Carrots and radishes of vast proportions. Persimmons, pears, pomegranites. Whole chickens. Pieces of chickens. Rice cakes. Soy cakes. Candies. Lucky fetishes made of beads and shiny fabric. Sandals. Socks with two toes make for wearing with sandals. Scarves. Hats. More scarves, more hats.
We people-watched. Old Kyoto is women who wear the kimono. Some of these are women of a certain age who were raised wearing them, and will wear them until they die. Others are in service industries; hotel waitresses, tea ceremony practitioners, UNESCO site docents. Young Kyoto is women who have graduated from school uniforms, and now wear the shortest of skirts with black fishnet stockings and all manner of boots, from ankle high slouches to mid-thigh stilettos.
With all the Shinto and Buddhist sites that we’ve visited, it seems somehow incongruous to see Christmas trees and Christmas lights. But it’s December, and that’s the way things are in 2010.
Our last stop is the Kyoto Museum of Modern Art, which is hosting a huge show of the work of Uemura Shoen. Her paintings span the late 19th century until her death in 1949, and her genre is bijanga, which is a branch of traditional Japanese art defined simply as paintings of beautiful women.
The show is massively attended. I can’t remember viewing art from within such a river of people. I am not tall at home, but I am tall here, so I’m able to stand a few yards away from the art and look over peoples’ heads. Still, I manage to get swept along with the tide of viewers, and once I get my shins whacked by a wheelchair. But the art … oh, the paintings. They are either on silk or on screens. Many are about three quarters life size. The colors are brilliant and surprising, and the “notan” of them, the patterns of not only lights and darks, but the patterns of each individual hue, are poetic. Her compositions are lyrical, and find the beautiful in the everyday activities and lives of women. It’s an inspiring end to our Kyoto stay.