We woke up to rain, for the first time since arriving in Japan. I knew full well that June was the rainy season for Japan, but we had been incredibly blessed with really nice, rain free, weather up to this point. My plan had been to take the kids to Nara this day, so they could wander around Nara Park petting and feeding the free roaming deer. That just didn’t sound very fun in the rain. I checked the surrounding areas and all had rain in the forecast. So, we needed a new game plan. I still wanted to take the kids to the Japanese performing arts show, and with only a couple more days left at our Kyoto hotel, it only made sense that we do something local. But, we were still saving the main attractions to do with my husband on the weekend.
Since we would be somewhat limited in our adventures today, I pulled out some clothes from the dirty clothes pile and decided to do a load of wash in the bathtub. I had packed 3 packets of sink size Tide detergent travel packs so that we could do wash during the trip. I picked out a couple pieces that I knew would dry quickly and a few that I knew would take a full 24 hours to dry. Then I dumped them all in the tub. Twenty minutes later I had some clean tops, shorts and underwear for all 5 of us hanging up to dry around the bathroom. Then, we headed off to breakfast.
At breakfast, a little late in the morning, I mulled over our entertainment options for the day. I decided to check with the concierge about a few experiences I had hoped to have for the kids that were special to Japan. I wanted them to get the chance to do Karaoke and I wanted them to be able to do some kind of Japanese craft. I was not disappointed with the choices. The concierge pointed out the Kyoto Handicraft Center and the location of a Karaoke club where you can book private rooms to sing within your own party. While the kids didn’t baulk at the ideas, they had one more of their own. They wanted to go swimming again! With the rain pouring down outside, how could I say no. I figured there was plenty of time in the day to swim for a bit and then go out and do the activities I had found.
The funny thing about the swimming pool at the hotel, and this could be true for all Japanese swimming pools, is that you have to wear a swim cap. At first I thought it was just because your hair could be dirty and they want to keep it from making the water oily or something. But they are mesh hats, given to us to use by the hotel since we didn’t have our own caps. So it’s not like a full barrier anyways. Nonetheless, we wore them and I have to admit, the kids looked pretty cute with them on! After some fun in the pool, we went back to the room to change into clothes to brave the weather.
Swim caps required for the hotel pool!
At this point, I started remembering all of the things I forgot to bring to battle the rain. I had a plastic poncho from Disneyland Paris still sitting in my closet at home and my stroller rain cover still in the back of my car. Both of which would have made our day much less miserable. But the idea of staying in a hotel room all day sounded about as much fun as trying to take all 3 kids to the dentist by myself.
So we put on some of our athletic clothes, the ones that tend to pull away moisture and dry easier, our sandals, and rain jackets, then headed out the door with the one umbrella that I had packed. The rain wasn’t mild, but it wasn’t stormy. In fact, it was a typical Seattle down pour. The handicraft center we were going to looked to be about a mile and a half way. It was just past the Haien temple that we had walked to a couple days prior. I convinced the boys that this was do-able and not much further than they had already walked before. I must admit, I was a little nervous at how well this walk in the rain was going to go, and not so much over how the kids would handle the rain, but how I would handle the rain! But we all marched along our route until we hit our landmark 7-11 store.
Given that it was past lunchtime by time we started our walk, we stopped in for some corn dogs that made for a quick lunch. We’ve been getting a pretty big and hardy breakfast each morning at the hotel so I don’t mind making lunch a bit smaller and am flexible in what they choose. After the corn dogs, we continued our walk and ended up having to navigate some confusing side walk and street construction around the area we should have had a direct path to for the handicraft center. Because of that, we happened upon a building that I originally thought was still part of the temple grounds, since it was constructed in the more traditional Japanese style. I saw a few people standing about and decided to check if anyone knew how close we were to our destination. The woman we approached pointed us in the direction that we had been on and said it was very very near. I took the opportunity to also ask what was going on inside the building in front of us that had multiple pairs of shoes lined up outside. She told me that there was a class practicing Aikido martial arts. The large square building had the sliding doors open on all sides so we walked along the path to watch briefly from outside. Since both of my boys are doing Taekwondo, it was interesting for them to watch a different martial arts form practiced in one of the disciple’s native countries. Not wanting to be a distraction, we stayed just 5 minutes then went back to our path to the handicraft center.
Watching a Japanese Aikido lesson.
By time we got to the Kyoto Handicraft Center, it was 2:45 p.m. I went in and inquired about the crafts that kids were allowed to do. They showed me a board with the times but said that you had to make a reservation, and that they were not sure if there were any spots left. My heart sank, I didn’t even think about having the concierge call ahead. But, they said I could check next door in their other building to see if there was still space. So over we went. They had one in progress that started at 2:30 p.m. and the next was schedule for 3:30 p.m. While they said that we could still join in at the 2:30 p.m. one, I liked the craft that they were doing at 3:30, so we waited. The rest of the center was a huge shop selling various things that are made in Japan and then some Japanese souvenirs (that were probably made in China). So I picked up a souvenir and some postcards while waiting.
From reading the description for the center in the hotel’s map of Kyoto and recommended things to do, it sounded like the craft was going to be free. So I was a little surprised when at 3:30 they asked for the fee before we went up. Already committed in my mind to do it, we paid the 1900 yen per person (I just did 3, one for each kid) to do the painted doll (that was actually a bell) craft. They led us over to the other building and up the elevator, to the room, and got us all set up with our paints. My 2 year old, who had been asleep up to this point, seemed to wake just at the right time when she heard the word paint, and activity she loves. There was a beautiful display of the finished product examples on the table to give us an idea of what to do.
Doll bells at the craft sample table. Kyoto Handicraft Center.
And this is how ours turned out.
I tried to let my perfectionist ideals go, and let the kids be kids and paint their bells how they wanted to. I struggled with my 2 year old, because in my mind, I wanted something to somewhat resemble the samples. So we compromised, I let her paint what she wanted and then I tried to make it look like a person with hair and a face.
Our Japanese bell doll that my 2 year old and I created.
While we had been painting, my husband texted me that he had a break from work for a few hours and said he could join us. By time we were done, he had walked over to the center to meet us. While the craft finished, we could also watch some of the artisans working on Damascene with find nails, little hammers and gold patterns.
Artisans making Damascene.
Our plan was to go to the Karaoke club next. My husband walked with us to where I had seen the closest subway station on the map, which looked like a straight shot and not that far away. But alas, it took a good 20 minutes to get there, still in the rain. At this point, he was sweaty and soaked, despite his jacket, and would need to go back to the hotel early to change for his business dinner. So he got off the subway before us and we parted ways. It was now 5:00 p.m. and I wanted to be sure we didn’t miss the show again. I decided to try for the 6:00 p.m. show (there was also a 7:00 p.m one too) to ensure we made it and then try Karaoke after. I knew in my mind that I needed to get some cash. But with my preoccupation at finding the theater with the 3 kids in the now stormy pouring rain, I completely forgot to look for an ATM and get cash. We got to the theater with our outer layers dripping wet and relieved to be inside again. Up at the ticket counter I saw the sign “Cash Only.” Crap. Because I forgot to stop, I didn’t have enough to buy the tickets. I asked where the closest ATM was and they gave me a neighborhood map that showed the closest 7-11, which is the most common place for ATMs apparently. Unfortunately for us, it was practically back at the subway station we just came from. But, at least I found a new route that led us through a beautiful temple complex.
At the 7-11, I got enough cash for the next week and had the kids pick out dinner. Since we weren’t going to make the 6:00 p.m. show and would instead have to do the 7 o’clock one, I gave up on Karaoke for the night, which was where we were going to order food at for dinner. This 7-11 was tiny compared to the one from earlier in the day and had no place for us to stand outside to eat. Cultural custom is that you don’t walk around while eating and I was trying as best I could not to be the rude American. So we set out in search of some kind of covered area where we could stop and eat in our route back to the theater. No such luck until we came back to the temple, where there was a covered pathway between two buildings. It being 6:30 p.m. and in the rain, people weren’t exactly swarming this complex. I decided we needed to stop somewhere with shelter and let the kids eat. We stood in the covered area and ate as quickly as we could before heading back at the theater.
Trying to find shelter in the rain.
Finally back at the theater, we waited in line for the 7:00 p.m. tickets, again, thankful to be inside again. Seating was quick and easy and so was putting aside the stroller. The theater was not very big and we got a place near the center in the 4th row. The program included several forms of Japanese performing arts. It began with a tea ceremony (Chado), in which two guest participants were selected. During the tea ceremony, two musicians began playing the Japanese harp (Koto). While they were playing, and while the tea ceremony was still in process, the flower arrangement (Kado) demonstration began. All three ended around the same time. I was really glad of this format as it gave the children something in two different spots to look between, which kept them quiet and captivated.
Japanese Tea Ceremony at Gion Corner.
Japanese harp and a flower arrangement demonstration. Gion Corner.
Next came some of the more lively performances. My 2 year old was particularly fascinated with the court music (Gagaku) and dragon dance.
My 2 year old being fascinated by the court musicians and dragon dance.
Court musicians and the dragon dancing.
The ancient comic play (Kyogen) came next. While there were some English explanations made over the speakers and written in the program, it wasn’t clear enough for the kids to understand. Nor was there enough time for me to read it to the kids in advance of the performance. So they were a bit confused by the comic play.
Ancient comic play. Gion Corner.
The main attraction, was 2nd to last and was an actual Maiko (a young Geisha) who performed two Kyoto style dances (Kyomai).
A Maiko dancing. Gion Corner.
Last was the puppet play (Bunrake) which I thought the kids would enjoy the most, but again, we didn’t have time to get the full story beforehand, so they were a bit confused. I think my 5 year old even called it “creepy” haha! But from an adult perspective, it was fascinating how fluid they made the puppet move. For most cases, it took 3 puppeteers to manipulate the one puppet.
Puppet play. Gion Corner.
The whole show was an hour total. It was the perfect experience for the kids. They got to see all of the traditional Japanese performances I hoped to expose them too and it was in a very manageable time frame to keep their attention. The theater where we saw the performance was Gion Corner. It is very much a company that created this program especially for tourists. But in my opinion, it was well worth it. Again, my 5 year old and 2 year old were free (and they still got their own seats). I had a discount ticket flyer from our hotel so my ticket was only 2800 yen (around $25 with current exchange rate) as opposed to the normal 31500. And my 7 year old was just 1900 yen.
We had a great time at the Gion Corner performance!
By time we were out of the theater, the rain had lightened up quite a bit, so it was a reasonable walk back in the direction of the hotel. I had a rough idea of where we were going, and after 20 minutes of walking, we ended up at the subway station that was on the same line for the stop I had read was next to our hotel. I was so happy to have finally figured out where the subway stop was, turns out it was on the opposite side of our hotel from where we had walked on previous days. This was handy information for Day 6, coming soon!