Well, for starters, I tried my hand at traditional Kyoto-style stencil-dyeing at a place called Zentai Gallery, tucked away in a lot a block from Horikawa-dori in Kyoto. I almost didn't find the place, because the entrance looked like this:
Perhaps the International Manga Museum (link here) which offers various workshops. I spent an hour or so there, but frankly it was less an art museum than a library or archive of manga. The collection is located in a converted school building, which itself was a converted governor's mansion, and they have had the wisdom and forethought to preserve some elements of those prior utilizations. The building is full of old wooden hallways like this, crammed floor-to-ceiling with manga at your fingertips, and occasional seating for people who want to read them:
Two interesting street scenes in Kyoto, which would suggest it is a very eco-friendly city, though I have no idea whether it actually is:
Still, even though I was unable to navigate by reading Japanese script (any of the three varieties) as I am able to do with hangeul, there was sufficient English, and enough helpful people, for me to get around. A key expression to remember is "simasen" (or something similar), basically, "Excuse me" in the sense of needing help. And "konnichiwa" for Hello and "arigato" for Thank you (yes, I had that Styx song--actually the whole damn album was an earworm much of the time). Like Koreans, they appreciate it if you just give it a try.
I was hesitant to take this trip, on several levels. First, I knew it would be expensive (and that was certainly the correct call); however, it came in almost exactly at my budget, with a few thousand yen at the end for some nice souvenirs. Second, in the few days before departure, I was feeling a bit ill, mainly from hayfever, and I didn't want to spend all that money just to be cooped up in a hotel sneezing and trying to breathe. I should make it clear that I was not concerned about radioactive fallout from the nuclear power plant failures in the tsunami, but I have qualms about Japan and Japanese culture at a much deeper level. There is, I believe, a lot to admire about the Japanese: Hokusai and great artists, as I mentioned earlier; Kurosawa is one of the great cinematic auteurs; Godzilla, Speed Racer, AstroBoy, and Japanimation.
Still, the historical negatives are tough to overlook: the rape of Nanking, unannounced attack on Pearl Harbor, not owning up to WWII-era sexual slavery to this day; the Japanese government is dissembling and dishonest about the past and about its efforts to make reparations for it (my government is certainly not perfect on this, but at least the shameful internment of Japanese-Americans has never been denied, and has since been atoned); much like "scholars" who deny the Holocaust, there are those in Japan who refuse to admit that Japan occupied Korea for the first half of the twentieth century. This is complicated stuff, but I have my opinions and personal feelings, and they were something I had to deal with in making this trip. And it should go without saying, it's not an issue with individual Japanese, just as I am not accountable for crimes committed by US Presidents I didn't vote for and even protested against.
What I find a little surprising is that I am 100% ready to go back! The next trip will include a lot more Tokyo, and perhaps a visit to the northern part, such as Hokkaido and a visit to the Sapporo brewery. Meanwhile, domo arigato, Japan, and sayonara.