Kyoto Day One – 10/06/11

This post is taken directly from my old blog, one that I tried to write during my first trip to Japan. This post was orginally posted at gaijinabroad.blogspot.com.

My first working day in Kyoto. I met a mother and son at breakfast this morning, and the invited me along with them for their day. I think it was their last day here in Kyoto before heading South. Anyway, we started off by going to the Nijo Castle, which is the first castle I’ve been t in Japan. They say it’s a castle, but it seemed like more of a manor house with walls and a moat. It didn’t have the winding, walled pathways to create deathtraps, or the tall white donjon or keep that is characteristic of Japanese castles. That saying, it was built by the Tokugawa in 1603, so the need for proper castles was much less than decades before. What was cool was that all around the main manor was a nightingale floor, a floor that is nailed just right so that each step you take squeaks, the resulting sound being something like a nightingale’s song. Trying to walk along that without making a sound is impossible! It seems artistic now, but it was created so that people, such as assassins or ninja couldn’t sneak around without being heard. So essentially it was fuelled by paranoia.
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The moat around the Nijo-jo Castle
After that, we moved to the Fushimi Inari taisho, or shrine. There was a festival there today, but unfortunaltey we missed it. It was still an impressive shrine. It just went on and on. It is famous for its huge number of red wooden torii or gates. And there were literally hundreds of them, covering all the pathways. We took a turn somewhere at the back of the shrine and stumbled upon several very old cemeteries, which in Shinto means lots of mini-shrines for the deceased. They were really cool, all old and mossy, and made for a lot of good photos. These cemeteries were way up a mountain, but there was still a little old lady who had walked up there (and it wasn’t an easy walk) to pray at these shrines. From the looks of things, she was moving from one shrine to the next (I saw her at 3 different shrines in a row), so perhaps she was doing a pilgrimage. You could tell that some of the shrines had not been visited for a long time and were slowly falling apart. There were some signs of life up there though: newly placed rice and salt trays, lit incense and candles; that sort of thing. Eventually, after getting a bit lost, we headed back down the mountain, a way we hadn’t come up, and not through the shrine. This way lead us through what looked like tiny farms, strange after the dense forest of the mountain. All of a sudden there was a school, all this way up. The first kids we saw seemed confused to see gaijin up there, but being young as they were, they said “Konnichiwa.” first, and then simply “Hello.” It was a really big school. We got lost somewhere on the way down, after following groups of school kids. Luckily, a friendly fifteen year old; whom I didn’t get the name of; offered to help us (and practice his English).
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Red torii gates at the Fushimi-Inari Shrine
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Mountain-side cemetery
We managed to get back into town, and on a whim decided to see the Kiyomizudera temple, this one Buddhist rather than Shinto. Again this was on top of a very tall hill, much like the shrine. On the way up, it started raining, which I was happy about, as it would clear the humidity that has been hanging around and cool me as I walked. It was a ¥300 (may have been ¥700) entrance fee, which I wasn’t happy about (I don’t like entrance fees for things as it is, but religious establishments, however large a tourist attraction, should not charge for entrance.  If this was one of the UNESCO world heritage sights as well, it really, really shouldn’t charge. A world heritage price should be something for everyone to behold without paying anything, only contributions (which seemed sizable as it was)). Anyway, once in it was quite spectacular. It is probably one of those places that is always featured in Japanese photo series. The view of Kyoto wasn’t much to speak about (especially not after Tokyo), but the mountain setting was amazing; the tiled temples and the pagoda peaking out of the dense green forests, all built on the side of the mountain. By this point we were all pretty tired, so we made our slow way back down the mountain. On the way I had a ツリプル or triple ice cream: strawberry on top, then dairy, then green tea. The strawberry and the dairy were nice, but I can’t say I’m a fan of green tea ice cream. Or green tea. Or tea at all. But still, try everything once, so I ate that. A wet, rainy walk, a bus ride then a subway 3 stops, and then another walk, and we were back at the hostel, with me in my dorm (currently deserted) and them in their private room, to rest for a while.
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Kiyomizu-dera, overlooking a cloudy Kyoto
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My favourite photo. Unfortunately I had to be quick and it didn’t come out very well.
Next on my agenda is dinner, but I don’t know if I’m going to bother buying something to cook or get some conbini (Japanistation and contraction of convenience store). I’m avoiding going out for food as much as in Tokyo, though I rarely did for dinner. In fact, most nights in Tokyo I slept from too early to eat, and if I woke up hungry, I’d just tide over until a very early breakfast at around 6am (more conbini food). And that is what I have done today in Kyoto.
Since arriving in Kyoto, I have been bitten by mosquitoes or gnats or some bug at least a dozen times. Though I seem to be the only one that has been bitten! Perhaps I am tasty to bugs… Scary thought I guess.
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