Saturday, January 13, 2007
Kyoto Trip Day 3 & 4
Saturday we woke up to rain. Rain, rain and more rain.
So, we decided to take it slow and ate a delicious breakfast of French Toast and Eggs Benedict at our local bakery.
In the afternoon, we travelled to Fushimi-Inari Taisha, a shrine dedicated to the gods of rice and sake in the 8th century. (Westerns may recall it in Memoirs of a Geisha...she runs through the orange/red archways in one scene). The path of follows 5km and very steep mountainside given exquisite vistas of Kyoto and surrounding areas. Linden and I took 2.5 hours to complete the walk. Its steep! I had many an urge to stop for sake at the occasional lunch/rest houses in front of shrines.
Saturday night we spent in Koya-san. This is in the region of Kii-Hanto and is a raised tableland covered in thick forests (bamboo and Cyprus) and surrounded by eight mountain peaks. It is the center for Shingon school of Esoteric Buddhism. I loved it. Numerous temples in this small town of 3,000. Women have only been allowed in the city since the late 1800s.
We stayed at a beautiful hostel. The traditional Japanese style room, measuring about 14 tatami mats (this is the measure of a room here not sq. meters) with our own table. You can stay in the temples if you have the money, and take part in the prayers and traditional work of the monks.
That night we happened on an "international cafe" run by a French woman, her Japanese husband and their 15 month-old daughter. They are renting the space for the year and have designed it so you are eating in an art gallery of pottery (I thought of you, Katie). Veronique makes the best espresso I have had since coming to Japan. We played with Mayana (their daughter) for at least an hour while they closed up shop. As a reward for our conversation and practiced baby-sitting skills they gave us a lift back to our hostel.
Sunday morning we woke up to at least an inch of snow. As I did not see snow in December this was welcome. We had spent the night shivering (I had complained about the nauseating smell of the gas generator and had shut off our heat) and the winds shook our reinforced "paper" walls. Linden has yet to forgive me for that.
On our walk to Okuno-in (a famous temple on Mt. Koya), we were able to quietly walk through thousands of tombs nestled in the cyprus forest winding up to the temple. The light was a bit flat to take pictures, but it did deter other tourists from a normally crowded walkway. We had it all to ourselves (well unless you count the few thousands Buddhist spirits).
After an afternoon indulgence in espresso and thai currie at the Int'l Cafe, we wandered around more temples and shrines with two new lawyer friends we met at the cafe (A Brit and an Aussie working in Commercial Arbitration with English Law Firms in Tokyo). In the evening we ordered dinner from the Hostel. Many traditional Japanese foods, with no instruction or translation. I cannot tell you what I ate, but it was all delicious and savory.
Monday morning I attended the fire service/ morning prayers at 6am at Muryoko-in temple. Our generator had broken the previous night so I gave Linden my blankets and she opted to try to get some non-shivering sleep. I was unable to sleep from jetlag, I dressed in everything I had with me and sat on the floor of a temple for 2 hours of prayer. It was interesting, but I did feel sorry that I didn't understand much of what was going on through the chanting or the symbolism. An older monk led me to make offerings with the incense and water. The monks are used to observers and make an effort to include foreigners in the service. Luckily, this bleary-eyed traveller noticed that the apples and oranges in the temple were specifically placed around the alters, beside incense...not food for me. The thought did occur to me to eat an orange. Thankfully I am no longer 4 years old and did not act on my hunger impulse.
Monday we caught the cable car down to Hashimoto and onwards to Osaka. We hopped on the bullet train back to Tokyo and for another impression of Japan.