Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Kyoto Again

This past Saturday I made the other trip I'd been looking forward to even before I left the States: going to Kyoto to see my friend Jenny! Jenny and I have been friends since middle school and although we go to college in the same state, we haven't really spent time with each other in over a year. It was a wonderful coincidence that we both decided to study abroad in Japan this summer!

All I wanted to do in Kyoto was see Kinkaku-ji, visit Ritsumeikan (the school Jenny studies at), and go to Fushimi-Inari Taisha, and we did all of those in that order. To be honest, with the exception of Ritsumeikan these are typical tourist-y things to do, and in terms of the all that you can do in Kyoto, it wasn't that much. But eh well.

On Saturday morning Jenny met me at Kyoto station, and after I bought my one-day bus pass we hopped on a bus to Kinkaku-ji.

Side Note 1: Out of all the cities in Kansai that I've been to, Kyoto has the most well-organized and efficient bus system I've seen. And you ride city buses in the opposite manner of how you ride them in the States. I don't know if it's the same in the rest of Japan, but in Kyoto people board buses from the back, and once they arrive at their destination they pare fare as they exit from the front.

金閣寺 (Kinkaku-ji) is a Zen Buddhist temple whose top two floors are covered in gold leaf. It's been around since the late 14th century and is surrounded by a huge garden. The "Golden Pavilion" sits on a pond and you can't enter it, so all you can really do is admire its beauty from the outside and enjoy the scenery of its surroundings. But even that in itself is a pleasant and calming experience, I think.

After walking through the Kinkaku-ji grounds we walked to 立命館大学 (Ritsumeikan Daigaku/Ritsumeikan University), where Jenny takes Japanese classes. Ritsumeikan doesn't have dorms, so Jenny lives in a hotel-like apartment and commutes by bus to school everyday. Ritsumeikan is a small campus, but it's still nice to look at and has some open spaces.

 We had some time before the bus back to Kyoto Station was to arrive, so for a little while we looked around an art museum across the street from Ritsumeikan called Kyoto Prefectural Inshō Dōmoto Museum of Fine Arts. Lucky for us, admission was free that day! This museum  is named after a Japanese artist named Inshō Dōmoto, and was founded by him in 1966. Its two floors contain works of his including paintings, drawings, and handicrafts. The current special exhibit is called "The Possibility of the Monochromatic Drawings".

We returned to Kyoto Station then hopped on another bus to Fushimi Inari Taisha.

Side Note 2: We got off the bus and while waiting at an intersection, I noticed a 20- or 30-something Japanese guy biking in our direction. He was about to pass by until he saw us, stopped abruptly, got off of his bike and said to me in English, "Sorry, excuse me. You ride, I take picture." Say what now? "You ride, I take picture" he repeated, as he motioned toward his bike. Oh, ok. Maybe he's never seen a black person before and he just wants me to take a picture standing next to his bike. This is little weird, but what the hey. So I stood next to his bike. But that wasn't what he'd wanted me to do. "No, you RIDE, I take picture". Huh? This dude seriously wants me to get on his bike? What is this?  But I was surprised and confused and didn't know what to do, so I got on his bike. He took out his phone, had me adjust the handlebars so they were angled just right, told me to smile, then snapped a picture. I got off his bike, he hopped back on, yelled "Sorry. Thank you. Enjoy Kyoto!", and was gone. And there you have it, the most bizarre thing that I've ever experienced in Japan.

伏見稲荷大社 (Fushimi Inari Taisha) is a Shinto shrine that's been around since the early 8th century. It contains trails leading up Mount Inari, and many smaller shrines line these trails. Fushimi Inari honors Inari, who is known as the god of rice and patron of business, merchants, and manufacturers. So along the path you will also see thousands of orange Japanese gates (torii), that have been donated by businessman over the years. We also came across quite a few stray cats, so that's something to look forward to for some people. As far as climbing the mountain goes, we were too sweatily exhausted and crunched for time to make it to the top, but we went as far as we could.

Side Note 3: It costs about ¥500 to enter Buddhist temples in Japan, but it's almost always free to enter shrines. I don't know what the reason is for this, but Jenny brought it up and made me remember pondering this before when I was in Nara, so I thought I'd share.

On the way back to the bus stop I bought milk tea and a set of mixed mini-sandwiches at a bakery/cafe called Eiffel. After I ate we sat on the curb waiting on the bus and reflecting on how we think we've changed since high school. At one point Jenny told me, "You seem a lot calmer," and she has no idea how much it meant to me for her to say that. I've always been really high-strung, making simple things a big deal and needing to be perfect. I'm still working on this, but it made me feel so good to know that an old friend of mine noticed that I've changed.

We rode back to the station and parted ways there, since Jenny had an event to go to. Before catching another bus Jenny hugged me and said, "Let's not limit our meetings to foreign countries, ok?" Will do!

After that I wandered around the many levels of Kyoto Station for a couple hours, bought a book, went to the very top of the station to look out over the rest of the city, then came down and bought my ticket back to Hikone.
Looking down at the rest of the station

This was my last free weekend in Japan, and my last chance to spend a day in Kyoto, and there's so much to do there. I could've found my way to Gion and seen whatever final Gion Matsuri festivities were going on. I could've just walked around the city. But for some reason, I just wasn't feeling it. I accomplished what I'd come to Kyoto to do, I was tired, my head hurt, I didn't have any plans, I was alone, and I just wanted to go back. So I did.

I really don't know what this means. Maybe I'm just fresh-out on day trips. Maybe, despite what I've been telling myself and other people, I actually am ready to go back home. Who knows. Alas, my second attempt and I still wasn't motivated or interested enough to go exploring and experience what Kyoto is all about. Call it a missed opportunity if you will, but I can't say I'm all that disappointed about it. Maybe next time, Kyoto. Thanks for taking time to hang out with me, Jenny!

70 Days in Kansai photos (JULY/AUGUST) \
 70 Days in Kansai photos (JUNE)

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