Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Kyoto, Revisited

The second day we were in Kyoto we had a leisurely morning; no early trains or hauling luggage around. We woke up and watched a replay of the Spain-Paraguay match while we ate our breakfast in a cute little dining room with another exchange student and her visiting family. They were from Boston and she had just finished a seven month home stay with another program, and it turned out the her and Adena have several mutual friends. Small world.
This was also the first, and last, morning that I ate a Japanese breakfast. I cannot handle fish, miso, some odd substance that looked like tofu but tasted fishier than tofu, before about noon. Also, I can't operate a pair of chopsticks that early in the day. Now that I've tried it I am justified in saying that I prefer Western-style breakfast. I have great respect for those people who can consume fermented soybean soup with two thin, wooden sticks for breakfast, but I will stick to cereal and fruit with a spoon and fork. Please and thank you.

After breakfast we boarded a train bound for Arashiyama, (which means storm mountain, but which is also just the mountain's name), and I was a little disappointed when I got there. I was expecting a rugged mountain worthy of the name Arashiyama, with deep gorges that had taken peoples' lives and untamed, foreboding forests. Instead, it was a sleepy town full of souvenir shops with a pretty river running through it and mountains surrounding it.

Me Adena, and Haruka sitting by the river, glistening with sweat from the walk from the station. Also take note of the gangsta peace sign.
I don't mean to say that it wasn't a nice town, because it was. It smelled good and had a uniquely Japanese feel about it, but I expected to see more 'Danger: Cliff' signs and fewer signs outlawing business transactions.

Little did I know that there was more to come. After souvenir shopping for a little bit and basking in air conditioning, we stumbled upon (I think it was planned and I was just unaware) a busy path winding up into the forest and up the mountain. This is more what I thought Arashiyama would be like.
I think this is a graveyard, but there's no real reasoning behind that assumption. A graveyard is a lot cooler than anything else that this would be, so I'm just hoping.
The path wound its way through a bamboo forest the whole way up the mountain. The backyard bamboo we have in Texas can barely be called bamboo in comparison to this forest. The biggest bamboo were probably six inches in diameter, give or take a little, and the smallest were about the size of my neck. There was no end to the forest in sight on either side of the path, and practically no sky peeked out from between the glowing green canopy of bamboo.
There were gift shops and temples and shrines nestled here and there in the bamboo, and we stopped by one of each.
The shrine we saw was right next to a little pond where the wind was blowing everything everywhere.
In this picture you can see the torii, the little gate things with the ropes on them, and in the background you can see the bell that people ring to get the attention of the gods before they clap their hands twice and pray. The wooden plaques hanging up are called ema. You can buy these plaques at a shrine, write your wish on it, and hang it up with all of the others and your wish will be granted.
Here there is a guardian (I think) and the place where you wash your hands and mouth to purify yourself before you pray at the shrine. Most of the shrines I've been to have had lost of ladles and huge basins where you can wash your hands (first left, then right) and mouth (after your hands), but this one was tiny.

After that we stopped at a gift shop and waited for a sightseeing train to arrive. I was imagining a dinky little train like the one in Zilker Park, but this was a legitimate train. It was called the Sagano Romantic Train, but most of the passengers were parents with children and other tourists. It was not what would call 'romantic.' The view from the train was amazing though. I felt like I had gone through a time warp (and a reality warp) and ended up in Middle Earth...
...except for the huge telephone/electricity line in the background.
I had seen Tanuki here and there in front of shops and restaurants, but never before have I seen so many terrifying Japanese raccoon dogs in one place, or so neatly organized.

The Japanese is both a real creature, and a mischievous and wily character in Japanese folklore. The really creepy statues are usually wearing these hats, carrying a bottle of sake in one hand, and a promissory note or empty purse in the other in the other, and they always have huge stomachs and 'humorously large' testicles based on biological fact. Why would you want one of these things in front of your shop?
Luckily, there was more scenery to wash that image out of my head.

I think the picture is too small, but in the bottom corner there are two people kayaking those rapids. I realized later why there were so many kayakers. In the middle of tens of rice paddies, there was a place that rented out kayaks and had little kayak outings.

I was more focused on the rice paddies. They're so cool! On the way back to the station we ran into an enormous tanabata decoration. There were bamboo archways on either end and the sides were lined with bamboo weighed down with countless strips of paper.

Tanabata is a festival on July 7th (7/7), and the story behind it is that this is he only day that a prince and a princess can meet because of something to do with the milky way.
We visited a museum too, but it wasn't very exciting. I say several of Van Gogh's original 'Water Lilies' but we were rushed for time so I wasn't able to properly admire them.
The train ride back to Nagoya on the shinkansen was about 35 minutes, compared to the two hours it took us on a regular train. Why are the Japanese so great at inventing stuff, and why do we not get any of their technology?


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