Wednesday, 27 November 2013

last day in kyoto

On our last day in Kyoto the day dawned bright and clear. We jumped on a train to Fushima-Inari, a place I've wanted to visit ever since I saw this scene in Memoirs of a Geisha when I was 14 years old. The huge shrine complex was dedicated to the gods of rice and sake in the 8th century - but as the importance of agriculture to Japanese people declined, more deities were added for prosperity in business. 

It's now the head shrine for about 30,000 Inari shrines across Japan. 

Excellent Japanese map number 3. 

These folded papers can be found in most shrines, but they are generally white. I think they are called shide and are often hung at the door of a shrine to prevent evil spirits from entering - if anyone can enlighten me further, please do! 

Pretty happy here! The path winds 4km steeply up the mountainside and is lined with thousands of torii. 

See the stone foxes? They are seen as messengers of Inari, the god of the rice harvest (and business) and are traditionally also seen as mysterious figures capable of possessing humans (thank you Lonely Planet). Torii mark the entrance from the profane to the sacred - so just imagine walking through hundred of them. 

I can't wait to come back in January, hopefully this time at night or the evening, when it is apparently very atmospheric. 
"Be genki, bebe."
We made our way back to Kyoto station for lunch at a sushi train place, and a taste of machi (green tea) ice cream. Unfortunately it wasn't what either of us expected, and in our hot and tired state we ended up dropping it all over ourselves in the middle of the crowds, then succumbing to a giggling fit and getting in even more of a mess. I promise we're growing into responsible adults. 


We decided to finish the afternoon at Shoren-in in Southern Higashiyama, a temple dating from 1895, but with some beautiful 16th century paintings on its sliding doors. 

You get the idea with the maps.

It was an incredibly still and peaceful evening.

Waiting for a bus, we happened upon this sight putting traffic to a halt. Dozens of young and old men carried the icon - not sure what else to call it - by hopping haphazardly (and seemingly a tad drunkenly) from one foot to the other while shouting chants. It was conveyed several times around the traffic crossing and eventually made its way up the street, followed by several men in white on horse back and the loud jingling of bells. 

For our last night we got dressed up (somewhat hurriedly as you can see), found a lovely Italian place by the river, and drank shochu in a tiny izakaya in Gion. 

The last picture of the trip, just before we headed back to Osaka airport. I took this, looked at it and then promptly burst into tears! However, more than one month is now down out of the five of not seeing G that I was contemplating. Time is really flying suddenly, and Christmas is fast approaching. 

Thursday, 21 November 2013

a day in nara

Winter is truly beginning in Miyakonojo. It's hard to imagine the sweltering heat of August now, as I develop my keep-warm tactics. As I may have mentioned, houses in Japan are very thinly insulated - I think because of earthquakes and to keep them cool in summer - and they don't really go in for central heating, so my flat is now home to many heat-tech Uniqlo products and strategically placed blankets and electric heaters. However, conditions are somewhat ameliorated by the best invention in the history of the world: kotatsu. Kotatsu are basically tables with a heater on the underside and a thick blanket attached between the legs and table top, creating a magical warm grotto for your legs. Why don't we have these in Scotland?! It does make it rather difficult to leave the table when the rest of the room is cold to the touch, though. 

I do feel quite sorry for the students: a rather Victorian attitude seems to prevail. One student wrote in their diary: "My father won't turn the heating on. He says didn't have heating when he was boy. He says wear sweater. But if I wear sweater I get weak body. I hope I don't be cold :( " The idea seems to be that the colder you are the healthier you are - perhaps that explains all the perpetually open windows and the wind whistling through the corridors. 

However, this weekend I'll be escaping the chill for Fukuoka, the largest city on Kyushu, for shopping and sumo wrestling! Or, as Carlos-sensei put it, "simply fat naked men hugging." Carlos-sensei has come out with some corkers this week in fact.. one of my co-workers was examining my many llama-themed stationary items and we talked for a while about Peru. One of my photos of Mach Picchu sparked some excitement and a flurry of maths, science and history textbooks with Peru-themed examples. Then Carlos-sensei spied this photo and asked, "Is that your boyfriend?" 

I had to admit that no, it was not. When I showed him a picture of Gabby he looked immensely disappointed and said "He doesn't look Peruvian enough." Well, nobody's perfect.

In other news, I want to share some pictures of our day in Nara, which is a half hour train ride from Kyoto. Nara was the first permanent capital of Japan and was the perfect size to walk around in one day. Just about any route you take will be encrusted with shrines, temples and tori, so I'll just share some of the highlights. We began with Isui-en, one of the most stunning gardens I've seen. 

It's hard to capture how peaceful and immaculate these gardens are. As with the rock gardens I mentioned in an earlier post, I never really understood what the fuss was about until I stood in silence in them. 
Our next stop was one of the most famous sites in the country, Todai-ji's Daibutsu-den. It's the largest wooden building in the world (and it's still only 2/3 the size of teh original), and the Buddha itself (the Daibutsu) is one of the largest bronze figures. While the size makes the Buddha seem forbidding, the gestures of the hands mean "fear not" and "welcome." 

The Buddha was originally covered in gold leaf and must have been an even more awe-inspiring sight for visitors in the 8th century. 

Among Nara's other charms are the tame deer walking around everywhere, hoping to be fed with the numerous biscuits on sale around the town. 

The view from Nigatsu-do. 

Our wandering led us next to Kasuga Taisha in the woods. The path was lined with stone lanterns, which are lit twice a year. 

Tourists and locals alike read their fortunes and left their prayers and hopes in a myriad of ways.

The National Museum housed a gorgeous collection of Buddhas from across Asia. 

We caught the train home at dusk and explored the insane Kyoto Station, which feels like the gateway to some space age subterranean city. 

When in Rome...