|Kyoto!||(Entered Jun. 14, 2009)
For the true Japanophile, Kyoto represents the ultimate city and place to be. Every year millions of people, both Japanese and foreigners, flock there in the hopes of finding the exotic dream of 'ancient' Japan. And while this magical place may still exist, you won't find it simply by stepping out of Kyoto station. These days you're going to have to work a bit harder to see it.
Actually I've been to Kyoto before, about 7 years ago, so I knew pretty much what was in store for me. So why go again? Two reasons. My brother (Steve) was here visiting me and expressed an interest in seeing it, providing me with a good excuse to go again and take some good pics with the D80.
I remembered Kyomizu temple from last time, and what stood out for me was that the water flowing from it (see below) supposedly cures all your sicknesses and ailments, etc. You line up, take a ladel from the pile, fill it up with magic water and drink. Actually the water didn't taste too bad, but probably because I was thirsty. Dunno about its curative powers though, it didn't do anything for the stiff shoulders I had from carrying my backpack around all day. That's Steve on the left drinking water from his hand (he's not throwing up). Everyone was pouring the contents of the cups into their hands instead of drinking from the cups directly, when in Rome....
And how do you prevent the spread of germs? After you're done drinking, stick your ladel in the 'ultra violet sterilizer' to clean it. Very traditional I'm sure.
There wasn't really time to hit another temple today, but Maruyama park was nearby, so we made our way over. On the way there ran across these two lovely ladies, who were kind enough to pose for a picture.
After that we walked around Gion for a while, an area of Kyoto famous for traditional shops and sights, but we didn't see much as it was strangely empty. Needing a rest, we popped into a riverside restaurant for a few beers.
Once 5 o'clock passes, Kyoto's traditional options pretty much disappear, so our evenings were spent mainly finding a good place to eat, then finding a decent bar.
The next morning it was pouring rain, which put a bit of a damper on our plans for walking around and seeing some of the more interesting temples. What else is there to do in Kyoto though? Without any other options we gritted our teeth and headed out into the downpour.
A short distance up the hill was Ryoanji, a temple with a famous rock garden. We sludged through the rain and made it there on foot in about 20 minutes only to find a large sign at the entrance apologizing for the construction and loud noises going on inside. The entrance fee was still 500 yen though, and when you're going from temple to temple you start to realize something, temples aren't cheap. We decided to give Ryoanji a miss. Anyway I'd been there the first time I came to Kyoto.
Taking pictures with one hand while holding an umbrella in the other was a chore, but I managed.
After Ninnaji, we headed to the city of Nara (which I will post about separately) for the rest of the day.
Fast forward to the next day. The weather had cleared up somewhat for our last day in Kyoto, and I wanted to head up to the North of Kyoto away from the crowds and fuss, in the hopes of finding some gems off the beaten path. A small brochure I received from the Kyoto tourism office on the first day had pictures and descriptions of a number of temples, and I liked the looks of one called Shinsendo. I planned for us to check that one out first, then head into the mountains up North to a temple called Jakkoin.
Given that we had to be back at Kyoto station at 4pm to catch the train to Tokyo, and the fact that we were a bit tired of paying 5 bucks for every temple, we decided to forgo heading into the mountains and instead went back into the city to see some of the larger attractions, parts of which you can see for free.
From there we continued on foot and made our way to the Imperial Palace. The palace itself is rather small, but surrounding it is a truly massive park that is free to enter, and strangely enough for a Saturday, almost completely empty. Everywhere there were these huge, flat swaths of gravel, which seemed purposeless to me, but there were large sections of grass and trees as well, most of it blissfully empty and quiet. We spent the last few hours of our trip just sitting here, relaxing and talking.
Steve contemplates returning to Vancouver and the real world.
Ok so Kyoto may not be the enchanting city it used to be, it may be large, dreary, and grey, but how much does that bother me? I have to say, after living for years in Tokyo, the king of large, dreary and grey cities, Kyoto is a definite step up. The streets may me modernized, there may be plastic and concrete everywhere, but Kyoto has a cultural atmosphere that you can still feel just by walking around. In Tokyo people are from all over Japan, but at the same time it has no distinctness about it, no real cultural identity.
If You Build It, They Will Leave...