Thursday, June 07, 2007

Kyoto (part 1) Golden Week (part 1)

I used to feel down right embarrassed that I had never been to Kyoto. I mean, I was here a year as an exchanger and had lived here as a teacher a year and a half and hadn't made it down. Kyoto called to me as the ultimate tourist experience, one that I must do, but almost dreaded. I had planned to go before, by myself in the fall for a 3 day weekend but got one of the most horrible portentous feelings of dread. so I didn't go, and told everyone it was because I had caught a cold.

but here it was, 9 days of traveling around with Joe, waiting to be planned, and I couldn't really bear to skip Kyoto, the centerpiece of Kansai. However, we were traveling during
Golden Week which meant that everyone else in Japan (with the exception of the poor NOVA teachers) would be on vacation and everything would be packed to the teeth. So, we compromised and decided to spend one, and only one, night in Kyoto. It was an excellent choice and a great start to the trip.

As many people will witness, when you get off the train in Kyoto, it does not feel particularly "special." There are no kimono clad beauties waiting for you with green tea or beautiful orange torii gates at each train station. In fact, much of Kyoto is, indeed like the rest of Japan, concrete.

These days, a lot of my job is getting off the train somewhere I've never been and following a poorly hand copied map to my destination, trying to both get there on time and not break a sweat. Joe and I got off the train, I saw my concrete jungle, got out my poorly copied hand drawn map of to get to the hostel and slipped into my Must Get to Point B from this Point A in Record Time mode. As Joe gazed around, having not lost his sense of travel wonderment from constant Know English Will Travel mode, made me realize that I should slow down and look at the scenery, gray as it was. And such started the trip, as I renewed my sense of wonderment with my surroundings, I also got less proficient with point A to B efficiency. Luckily, although we got very lost the first night, we didn't mind at all.

In fact, the longer I'm in Japan, the more I realize that trying to find something specific often doesn't work and many of the most wonderful discoveries are the ones your curiosity leads you too. We ended up following a few flights of stone stairs up an inviting hillside to a quiet dark Shinto Shrine. somewhere short of Ginkakuji and Higashiyama our intended destination. It was lovely.

This album is powered by BubbleShare - Add to my blogNot daunted by my previous, "misinterpretation" or shall we say "failure" to make the busses take us to where we intended to go, we set out again in the morning. This time with success, we made it to the beginning of the day's walking route, starting at kiyomizudera and winding up into town.

Kiyomizudera is huge and was indeed crowded, however, used to the inhumane maddness of Tokyo, I didn't find the crowds so bad. In fact, it was much better than I expected. It's strange to imagine what this place must once have been, a huge complex on the hill, majestically and calmly looking over Kyoto city. There must have been a time when the smog didn't hinder the beautiful view. There must have been a time when the sound of the wind through the leaves could be more easily heard and no one needed to hang dozens of signs saying "please don't take leaves off the trees as souvenirs." I'm sure that time was not as idyllic as I'd like to imagine, but I bet it did have much less flash photography. for better or worse, I suppose.

Regardless, Kiyomizudera, apparently recently nominated for 7 Modern Wonders of the World , is indeed fabulous and beautiful. I don't resent the endless stream of tourists who want to see it and feel it's beauty. There are still gods here to pray to, including a rabbit god that brings you love. People write messages on placards wishing for love here, other shrines have wishes for success or happiness.

one of my favorites, free from the need to be lyrical or coy, simply read:

So, I keep messing this up... so my wish (es) is/are to either FINALLY truly fall in love or at least have another chance. OR I'd like a new dog in the near future. ~Lindsay.

and I hope Lindsay is happy today. There were many more, most in Japanese but some in English, French, Korean, Thai.... Amazing that we all assume these gods (who are more fallible than Western counterparts) can read our handwriting and know what our words in various languages really mean. Many plaques wishes for the person they loved to love them back (a common theme in Japanese love stories) or for second chances. Others wished for a joyful future with the one they loved.

These kind of placards are common in shrines and they always remind me a bit of confessional websites like Postsecret. There is certainly something in even the most shy of us that wants to bare our souls or shout our love from the roof tops, albeit with anonymous detachment. There is something, perhaps cathartic, about releasing shameful secrets or wishing pathetic wishes out loud. I'm not sure what this drive inside us is, but as an occasional blogger, I certainly must say I share it.

But back to Kyoto. After leaving Kiyomizudera, Joe and I walked through beautiful little side streets and explored other incredible, but less famous, temples and shrines. We stopped to eat when we were hungry. We wandered where our curiosities led. We took pictures of everything that fascinated us. which was most everything.

And such the adventure began...

1 comment:

SonicLlama said...

Not to get all cheesy in your comments section or anything, but being with you goes a long way to boosting my feeling of "travel wonderment." Kyoto is cool on it's own, of course, but everything was much niftier with you.
I found out a while ago that apparently people jumped off the Kyomizudera for good luck. If you survived, your wish was granted. I guess there's lots of underbrush and whatever to break your fall, but still...
Now, what happened next!