Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Kyoto Day 8: Forget Your Map, Find a Graveyard....

First of all, I have found my large pile of informational tourist pamphlets and brochures Kyoto gifted to me in generous way, and I have a correction to make. The tea ceremony place in Uji is not called the Uji Tea Ceremony Research Place. It's called Taiho-An: Uji City Municipal Tea Ceremony House. Research is, perhaps, not part of they do there.

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

The plan for today was to explore the Gion Shrine—also known as the Yasaka Shrine. No matter what you'd like to call it, this colorful and large shrine at the end of Shijou is a well-known tourist spot among the Japanese. The shrine was originally built in 656 AD, and its main god is Susanoo-no-Mikoto, the god of storms and brother of Amaterasu, the sun goddess.

The main entrance to Yasaka Shrine.

There are also shrines to other gods there, including a small Inari Shrine.

In Kyoto proper, lanterns are a popular display item for larger donotions.

The fox guardians of this shrine are actually caged. (I'm not sure who the cage is meant to protect.)

While Yasaka Shrine is lovely, it's hardly an all-day event, so I moved onwards to Maruyama Park which sort of links this shrine with other temples in the area. Maruyama is famous in Kyoto for cherry blossom viewing, and likely popular again for Autumn leaves. Although the leaves are still unchanged in late September, the park is still lovely and a nice peaceful break from the crowds of Gion and Shijou.

A fountain in Maruyama Park.

Alice had mentioned there was a large temple located through Maruyama Park—Chion-in, which is known for having appeared in the movie The Last Samurai. While I'd left my guidebook and English maps at the apartment, there were signs around Maruyama Park that indicated something was in both directions. Both, also, looked like temples.

The first "temple," which I found pleased with myself for finding...well, it turned out not to be a temple. It was the Higashi Otani Mausoleum—a conclusion I should have reached when I saw the flowers being sold and lack of tourists on the grounds. Not when I finally saw the graves.

Higashi Otani Mausoleum entrance gate.

After walking purposefully out of the graveyard, lest someone realize I was lost and try to offer directions, I wound back down the hill and followed a road through Maruyama Park to another area that seemed popular with the taxi drivers. Add that fact to the massive gate I could see behind the taxis, and this location seemed a safer bet as a more acceptable tourist spot.

Chion-in temple is at the top of an impressive flight of stop steps. They're unusually tall stairs for Japan, but the grounds that wait for you are beautiful and spacious.

As I've mentioned before, even when you get lost in Kyoto, you can't really get truly and maddeningly lost because the city has been built on a something of a grid. It creates a safety in wandering that I've found unique to Kyoto—that is, the safety of being able to reason what approximate direction you need to go to get anywhere you see on a map. Plus, in an effort to cater to its tourists, Kyoto features maps in some locations.

The thing that gets to me about Kyoto is the feeling that as much as it professes itself to be an International Tourist City, it's not adequately prepared. The effort and intention is there, but it's been undermined by the lingering xenophobia so deeply entrenched in Japan.

You see the war going on—the effort being made by those who welcome and cater to the foreign tourist, yet in the same day you might experience other people behaving as if they'd never seen a foreign tourist in their lives. The latter is what makes Japan an important experience for those of us who do not live as visible minorities in our daily lives.

Also, if you don't travel to foreign countries, you will never find things like "Kyoto Green Tea Collon" snacks:

Foreign travel brings a sense of adventure to simple things. They become imbued with the mystery of the exotic. Going to a grocery store becomes a new experience, as you're no longer just looking—you're seeing again.

If you aspire to write, even if you're not going to write genre, you need to travel. You need to breathe in as many places as you can, and learn not what makes people different, but what makes them the same.

People walking along the banks of the Kamogawa or Kamo River, taken from Shijou street.

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