Today we stayed relatively close to our hotel, though I still managed to get in 20,000 steps on the pedometer.
Just up the main street from us is the Heian Hotel, a conference hotel for prefecture's workers, but now open to the general public. We met Mr. Saito, a delightful man who retired six years ago as manager of the hotel but still comes to work six days a week, half days, to manage the gorgeous garden. His garden has been ranked as one of the top ten in Japan by Douglas, the editor of Sukiya Living magazine and our tour guide. Mr. Saito is a handsome, elegant, refined gentleman. He knew nothing about Japanese gardens until he started caring for this one. Douglas likes to point out that designing a Japanese garden is one thing, but maintaining it is the real challenge. Mr. Saito describes his work as cleaning. He weeds moss, mows and keeps the edging sharp. He hires local professionals to prune the azaleas, pines, and Japanese maples four times a year. He has recently completed renovating the pond, where the water is clear and the koi are happy. He doesn’t plan to retire from this garden work and says he is not training anyone to take his place!
We returned to the hotel for lunch, and I hope to wander over there some evening, as well as go early some morning to watch him work. We crossed the street into the grounds of the old Imperial Palace, now a national park. Douglas was able to get us into a several-hundred-year-old house which is generally not open to the public. The garden off the back of the house is incredibly beautiful, with a view of a large lake. The house is unusual in that it has a second floor. The tiny two-mat tea room is fascinating.
After we wandered the grounds, Douglas invited us up the steep stairs to the second floor bedroom. His wife, Tamao, then gave us a demonstration of how she puts on her kimono (she wears it every day when she is at home in Maine, but not often in Japan). It was a wonderful chance to see the complex process of dressing in such a beautiful garment. (She had on black tights and a t-shirt, preserving her modesty.)