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Apr '11

Meet Johnnie Hillwalker

Today we went for yet another walk around Kyoto, only this time, we would have a guide to lead us.

Before the tour started an old man walked up to us and asked us where we were from. “Holland”, this made him very pleased. He told us he was happy to finally meet some foreign people that could speak English. We had a little conversation. He lived in Kyoto his entire life and remembered the war, when he was just a little kid.
The tour started and the man made quick work of getting away.

The guide was nobody else then the famed Johnnie Hillwalker. Those of you who don’t know him, don’t blame yourself.
I will briefly explain who he is. Johnnie Hillwalker is a Japanese man of 80 years old. He has been a city-guide for his entire life. His tours include fun, history, wisdom and a lot of walking.
At 10.15 the tour would start. Then entire group counted 9 tourists and 1 Johnnie Hillwalker. Of course the size of the group is of no importance, but it helps to form a picture in your head.
I could help you by describing the lot, but that would be a very boring story. So I will just describe our guide Johnnie.
As I said, he is an 80 year old man. His white hair reached to his shoulders and started to thin out. To cover the skin that was visible through his hair he wore a hat, one you could refer to as a tourist hat or fishing hat (without the hooks of course). He wore a black jacket that was almost as short as he himself. I would guess he was about 1.6 meters and his jacket close to 1.5m. His face looked a bit like mister Miyagi’s (without the beard).

The tour started and he started by telling us where we would go first and handed out a view maps he made himself, though very good readable.
The first stop would be the Higashi Honganji Temple. This particular temple was famous, because both it was very old and the buddha inside. The Buddha inside this temple is called Amida and he sees to it that everyone would go to paradise after dying.
Outside this temple we stopped and Johnnie told us about the Japanese religion. Which is quite a mixed up thing. They worship Buddhas, which comes from India through China. As well as some Chinese Symbols. For example Johnnie pointed to the dragon that stood at the washing table near the temple. The old Japanese religion is called Shinshü, which includes a lot of gods, but no god for the afterlife. So this is why the Japanese people are so fond of the Amida Buddha. Other Buddhas can by found throuhgout the streets, inside every home and in other temples. Apart from the ones in the homes and the family temples they are all open to public. Temple headquarters like this big temple controlled a lot of smaller temples, but also elementary schools and junior high-schools.

I could tell you more about the temple. But it is a lot more fun to talk about the rest of the tour instead of spending words on the religion.
Our next stop would be a Kyosendo. A place where they make the famous fans. We got to see how the fans were made and how time consuming it is to do. Also we learned entire blocks of houses were actually working together to make the fans. Some households would fold the paper, others would make the bamboo sticks. Others would assemble those and yet another household would make the finishing touch.
These handmade fans had different goals. Some were for tea ceremonies, others just for decoration, dancing or practical use.
In the workshop where we could take a look one pair was working. An old lady and a man of about 40 years old. The man would weld the outer pieces of bamboo to the paper and the lady then made sure it wouldn’t move while drying. They would do this every day (except for weekends) from 8.30 to 12.00 and from 13.00 to 17.30. Together they could finish 500 fans a day. It sounds like it is a brain-killing job. Which brings us to the next stop.

The next stop was a Shinto shrine. The Shinto shrines can be recognized by the gate and simple paper decorations. The sacred ground in such a shrine is always surrouned by a rope, most of the time on a height above your head. You could only enter these areas by first washing yourself. The Shinto gods don’t like dirt. Some monks take of their cloths and wash themselves intensively and only then they would be entering the temple of the god. Johnnie only cleaned his hands and mouth before entering the sacred area in front of the small temple.
Shinto gods are invisible though so one would never be sure if your prayers would be heard. To get the attention of the god there is a bell you may ring with your washed hands. After this you clap your hands twice to make more noise and get the god’s attention. After doing this you pray and bow.
Johnnie told us this particular shrine was of the god of the brain. You could pray here for a better brain. “Very popular among students”

Next we would stop at a small graveyard near a local Buddha temple. Here we received some information about the ceremonies people go through when one of their loved ones passed away. Every month a priest would come by the house, usually on the day of the month on which the person in question passed away. Together with the priest they would make sure the person would have a good afterlife. the grave also gets visited, but not every month. Only a few times a year. 3 Times if I recall correctly, around national holidays the family would go to the grave where the ashes were stored and refresh the flowers and write something on bamboo to put at the grave.

Next would be another shrine, this time one for the protection of women. Johnnie made another prayer for his wife and on we moved to the next stop.
We would get some green tea with vegetarian sushi. The sushi we got was made of rice, black sesame seeds wrapped in a sweet pancake-like covering.
On we went, through the Geisha area (officially geisha area, unofficially it had just been prostitution until last year), to a small pastry shop. They made their own cookies and sold them, here we got to try a cookie of which almost nobody knows the name and of which we already forgot the name. But it was a flower cookie. It tasted like thin paper filled with some kind of honey paste. After checking out the shop and it contents (they even spent time on learning young cooks how to bake all the delicious cookies and sweets), we got out and moved to yet another Buddha shrine.

This shrine was build by the famous farmer Hideyoshi. We briefly got his story. Apparently he has become famed as a hero, not by fighting, but by talking to other people and make them his friends. This way he managed to unite a big part of the Japanese people. This day they still worship him and his deeds. Next to this sake loving Buddha temple (people offer sake to this particular Buddha) was a little shrine of another Shinto god. This was the god of good income, Toyokuni. You could pray here to ask for a higher income. Not to anyone’s surprise this was a very famous god and so was this shrine.

Next we got to the old Nintendo building. Not much to tell you about. Nintendo started in a wooden cottage and slowly expanded through their playing cards into a nice building. This buidling was no longer in use, so getting Sybren’s achievement here would be just as silly as it would be at the current Nintendo building. As a little souvenir Johnnie handed out original playing cards made by Nintendo.

After this we got to see another household craft; pottery. We passed a part of Kyoto that consisted of a lot of pottery families. We stopped by one of these houses. In this house they painted the pottery and indeed when we got to take a look inside we saw an old man and an old lady painting pots. Outside these potteries were sold, either for 300 yen for a small cup or 400 yen for a bigger one, through self-service. This was the last stop already.

Now, I did not include everything Johnnie told us, because the man just had too much information to share with us.

After the tour which ended near a famous temple, we went to see that temple and walked back down through the crowded streets. back down we took another stroll around town before heading to the Italian restaurant where we couldn’t eat yesterday. Today they were open again and we got to a table. To our benefit the people here could actually speak English!
We got to see the menu and felt our wallets shrinking. This place was very exclusive apparently. The prices were towering above our budget, but we kept our cool and ordered the food, although the cheapest pizza they had on the menu. We ate the pizza that was twice the price and half the size of pizzas we were used to and drank our beer (which had relatively the same prize). Feeling like rich and wealthy business people we payed the bill and went back to our hotel, stopping to buy some ice cream at the local supermarket.

Our trip and some photos are accessible through our Trip Journal page.


7 comments to “Meet Johnnie Hillwalker”

  1. ria Says:

    een fijn tipje met mr miyagi. kom je nog eens ergens. hoeveel shrines en temples heeft Kyoto?

  2. Syb Says:

    ongelooflijk veel. Van kleine shrines op de hoek van de straat tot immens grote tempels die hele blokken innemen.

  3. dad Says:

    Compliments for your writing talents SYbren. Very long and sometimes tedious stories though. Not the writing style of Marcel I believe. I think you are passing most time behind the computer keyboard whilst Marcel is wrecking some arcade machines.
    Take your time seeing lots of stuff.

  4. Thera Says:

    Ik lees net dat er weer een aardbeving is geweest in Japan en een tsunami waarschuwing, brr. Wat merken jullie eigenlijk van dit alles?

  5. Marcel Says:

    Ik heb de aardbeving volgens mij wel gevoelt (kan ook een andere zijn), was rond 23:40 ofzoiets. (Ik dacht eerst dat de persoon onder mij heel onrustig in zijn capsule lag.
    (We zaten in een capsule hotel, komt straks wel een post over 😉 )

    Verder nog niet echt aarbevingen gemerkt.

    Syb sliep er overigens gewoon doorheen 😛

  6. Thera Says:

    Lijkt me zo gek om mee te maken. Fijn dat jullie er niet last van hebben. Merk je ook de paniek verder daar?

  7. Syb Says:

    Nee, mensen hier zijn allemaal gewoon bezig met hun dagelijkse bezigheden.