Waving flag (64x50)
Photo Journal Week 2 (Part 1)
 
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Friday
February 1st
Went to Kyoto by bullet train. Got settled in at my traditional Japanese inn, Ryokan Hinomoto, with a little gracious help from the proprietor, who came down to rescue me from the payphone in front of the corner store. Then I went to Chishaku-in temple. It was the first really traditional temple I visited, and I really enjoyed it. As I've read about, the atmosphere of the old building, surrounded by its immaculate and beautifully sculpted garden, was incredibly peaceful. And when I heard the tone of the prayer bell, it was very moving. Touring the inside of the building I felt like an intruder. The signs weren't very clear, so I worried about whether I had wandered off the path into "restricted territory." But I just tried to keep a low profile, and I made it out without being scolded.

Chishaku-in temple, with its peaceful garden and pond:


One of the beautiful screen paintings from a prayer room inside the temple:


Chris came that evening. Before picking up Chris I tried to use the Internet, but didn't quite have time. On my way into the Internet cafe I saw two arcade games I've never seen before. They're linked together. One is the "play the drums for the rock band game" (with an actual electronic drum kit) accompanied by the "play guitar for the rock band game" (with two detachable fake guitar units). Very Japanese...

We headed out for dinner on Pontochi-dori, a historic street in the center of town. (On the way we spotted Crab-zilla!) Pontochi-Dori is a long and very narrow street fronted by traditional wooden buildings housing many restaurants, bars, and even geisha houses. We spotted a few geisha on our way, fully made-up in white face paint, kimono and sandals. For dinner we discovered a great place--the highlight of the meal was a great serving of sashimi. I had my first squid and octopus sashimi and did a repeat performance on sea cucumber. After dinner we dropped by the Rub-a-Dub, a reggae bar supposed to be a great hang-out joint for ex-pats and locals.

The night's final adventure came when we returned to the inn and tried to fit my very big brother up this tiny little staircase:


...and then Chris made himself comfortable on his futon:


...but we didn't go to sleep without checking out Japanese pay TV! (coin-operated):


Saturday
February 2nd
We woke up early to accomplish a lot in Chris's one full day in Kyoto. For breakfast we hit Starbucks, which I mention only because of this woman we met there. She was two tables away from us, American or at least ex-pat of some kind, and reading an English-language newspaper. I asked her where she got it, but I was really hoping she would just give it to us when she finished. Indeed she gave it to us, but then demonstrated a desperate need for some English conversation. We were very polite even though we had no interest in hanging out with another American. Still, we gave every possible polite signal that we weren't up for a big chat, and yet she stayed with us for ten or fifteen minutes telling us all about how sick she was of living in Japan and how desperate she was to get out. I had mentioned that we wanted to see if the Lakers had played, and she insisted on checking for us in the newspaper she had given us. (It turned out they hadn't played that day.) This was to be our first of a number of experiences where we realized that there's a big demand for English conversation in Japan, from many sources--lonely ex-pats, girls looking for gaijin husbands or that wild foreign romance, people wanting to practice their English for work or school, etc...

Chris was grumpy that morning, but at least he had a cute little robe:


After breakfast we went to Kinkaku-ji, the temple with the golden pavilion. The neatly groomed sand garden was disturbed only by deer footprints:


The golden pavilion was very beautiful, even though it was the middle of winter and a dull, gray day. It must be amazing in the more hospitable months:


You say you want a close-up shot? That's not a rooster on top--it's a phoenix:


I think Chris was pausing to contemplate the meaning of life, but he may just have been tired:


Even without the pavilion the garden and the central pond were really pretty:


Next we visited Ryoan-ji, a temple with a famed zen rock garden. The garden is composed of white sand or gravel, raked around fifteen rocks scattered throughout the an area of 30 by 100 feet. I won't include a picture here, because it would disappoint on-screen. We spent a few minutes contemplating / staring at the garden. I thought it was cool and thought-provoking, but Chris was unimpressed. Before you get to the rock garden, you pass these artifical ducks. Or... I thought they were artificial (kind of like lawn flamingoes) until they started moving...


It's almost standard practice for there to be a shinto shrine on the grounds of each buddhist temple. Ryoan-ji was no exception. Chris and I paused to ponder why the Japanese put little pebbles on top of the torii gates leading into shinto shrines. (The shape of the torii shrine is drawn from the kanji character for "heaven".)


We were also confused by the pink aprons on the little stone gods. (Doesn't Chris look confused?) Later on I learned that these gods protect the spirits of children who die from being drowned in the river by demons. Worshipers keep them dressed in these aprons and often splash water on them in thanks.


The temple grounds also included what absolutely, positively must be actual Dr. Seuss Trees!


After that we headed off toward the other side of town to see more temples. On the way we spotted Sumo-zilla! And we saw this pretty neighborhood shinto shrine. This was common all over Japan: even in the middle of busy areas of Tokyo we would run into little "secret" shrines tucked away between buildings, and also big park-like shrines covered with trees and playgrounds. They were a really nice feature of the cityscape.


Our final temple visit this day was Kiyomizu, high on a hill top over the city with a massive forest of wooden columns support a big temple floating out over a steep hillside. Compared to the other temples, Kiyomizu was a bit... commercial. It was overrun with tourists all buying charms ("successful childbirth charms," "traffic safety charms," "love charms," "traffic safety / love combo charms," and so on) and trying to touch the "Love Stone" that guarantees romantic success. (Actually, the love stone worked for me!)

The hillside setting was impressive:


On our way in, Chris purified himself at the "dragon spit fountain":


The main temple building is absolutely massive and just hangs straight out off the hillside on those big wooden columns:


Up in the "marketplace" at the top of the shrine, we met this angry-looking little rabbit god:


The highlight? Why naturally it was the "Love Stone":


Another chance to purify? I guess I approve of any excuse for a pretty fountain in this mountain setting:


For lunch we had some excellent ten-don (tempura shrimp and eel over rice) at a restaurant run by a very friendly man who had studied business for a year in Waco, Texas. He talked us into eating our shrimp tails (garnished with "tea salt") which was interesting but not even remotely worth repeating. We shopped crafts at various stores. The best of the crafts are the ceramics. They have lots of great plates, cups and other table ware with beautiful designs and unusual shapes. We also found a store that sold small cloth squares with beautiful designs on them-there were two particularly beautiful landscape designs, both handmade. The proprietor spoke very little English, but eventually explained to us that we probably didn't want to buy these "fukusa" because they are used by the Japanese only as traditional holders for gift money at weddings and funerals.

For dinner we ate at a new-wave-ish version of a Kyo Ryori restaurant, which is the traditional high-end cuisine of Kyoto. That was only so-so for us gaijin. One dish seemed to have slime as a main ingredient. And we mistakenly let them serve our after-dinner rice topped with lots of little baby fish (ick). After dinner we went to the Pig and Whistle, also an ex-pat hang out. Two more English-conversation experiences. First we met two Japanese girls who were (very aggressively) interested in a little English conversation. They were so on-the-prowl for ex-pat boyfriends it was a little spooky. Within twenty minutes they were telling us what "nice guys" we were (despite the fact that the conversation had been pretty primitive given our inability to speak Japanese and their very limited English). At that point we bailed out, figuring we shouldn't hold them back in their mission to meet some ex-pats who were actually going to be in Kyoto for more than two days. Then we hung out a bit longer and briefly scanned a local ex-pat magazine where we spotted an ad from an ex-pat looking for stimulating English conversation on any topic, willing to pay $100/ hour!

It was quite a picture day, but we couldn't resist one more. What is this place? A parking lot or a ferris wheel?


Sunday
February 3rd
In the morning, the Starbucks ex-pat woman gave us a true lesson in desperation for English conversation. As Chris and I were walking towards Starbucks (around the same time as the day before), I told him that if she were really desperate for English conversation, she'd show up again at the same time hoping for another chat. But Chris got it right when he said, "No. If she's truly, madly, deeply desperate she'll show up and know the score of the Lakers game." You guessed it--we sat in the other part of the cafe to avoid her, but she tracked us down and started off our chat by telling us that the Lakers had won. Whoah!

After breakfast we saw Ginkakuji, the silver pavilion temple, in the morning. Then Chris took off on the shinkansen (after we grabbed a tasty lunch of pork shu-mai and bao while sitting on the ground in the train station).

Chris on the way into the grounds of Ginkakuji:


Carefully raked white-sand garden in front of a beautiful wooden temple structure:


The silver pavilion!:


OK, that last one was from the brochure. One thing true about it is that, unlike the golden pavilion of Kinkakuji, the silver pavilion of Ginkakuji is not actually siver-plated. Here's a view of the carefully shaped main sand garden with the pavilion in the background:


And a different view across the sculpted sands:


And a view from the top, with Kyoto in the background:


And me! With the temple in the background:


Beautiful flowers bloom in the dead of winter.


Don't I always take you behind the scenes? Here's one of the many incredibly diligent gardeners and maintenance workers who make these immaculate gardens possible. We saw them in many places, picking leaves out of the cedar moss and arranging loose grains of sand into the right spots.


Is this the third eye of Zen? I hope not, 'cause then enlightenment means you get to see me taking a picture of you.


The Kyoto bus stops were very cool. They had these automated bus tracking systems that would show you the status of the incoming buses for each line. At the top you see that bus 5 is three stops away, while at the bottom we can see that bus 102 is one stop away!


That afternoon I walked a long stretch of the Philosopher's Road, which passes many temples (and many tourist-oriented shops). Saw Ishin-no-Michi, a monument to samurai killed in historic battles, but I think also a right-wing site where they honor soldiers from WWII. It had a very recently installed, small monument (113) honoring the Indian judge who exonerated many Japanese soldiers of war crimes. It was also a very ugly monument, with a push button to activate a long and loud shpiel about the guy in English and Japanese. Right next door to this site was a temple with a huge statue of the buddhist goddess of mercy, dedicated to soldiers killed in WWII. I was starting to get pretty disgusted at all of this, but it's clearly the case that Japan has a substantial right-wing, nationalist movement that eats this stuff up, and of course the rest of the country is still pretty unapologetic about the rape of Nanking, Pearl Harbor, etc... I guess I was just caught off guard because I didn't realize what these sites were, and I entered them thinking they were just traditional temple grounds. Anyway, I also caught a beautiful view of the city from a mountain-top shinto shrine. I visited Chion-in temple, with it's huge gate building where you can enter a temple in the top of the gate. I dropped by Shoren-in, of which I have no pictures because I was exhausted at that point. But Shoren-in garden did have the nicest covering of cedar moss I'd seen anywhere. And I toured many of the shops, looking for art. I finally found one which had really beautiful scroll paintings. (It was on the south east corner of the intersection between the Philosopher's Road tourist route and Sanjo Dori, which I mention just to be sure I don't forget it, because I would definitely recommend it to others, and I would visit it again if I came back to the city.)

This guy loves war criminals. (Ishin-no-Michi temple)


The towering gate of Chion-in temple:


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