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.
There are also shrines to other gods there, including a small Inari Shrine.
The fox guardians of this shrine are actually caged. (I'm not sure who the cage is meant to protect.)
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.
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.
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.