Kyoto Adventures (part 1): Friday Adventures
So on Friday I rode the subway to Nagoya Station and took the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto Station. It was only about a 35-ish minute ride, which is really not bad. Anyway, from Kyoto Station, aka the Station of Death and Despair*, I took the subway up north and walked over to Kyoto University. I still had approximately a million years before I was meeting up with Steven and Michele, though, so I decided to walk over to Yoshida Shrine, which is right next to Kyoto U.
You know, torii are really awkward to take pictures of if they're on a street and you don't want to get hit by cars.
Yoshida Shrine, by the way, is associated with Yoshida Shinto, i.e. "Japan is the trunk and China is the branches and India is the flowers."
Yoshida Shrine apparently has a preschool associated with it. And by "associated with it" I mean "the preschool is located on the shrine grounds." The advertisement for the shrine says, "In the midst of abundant nature, grow up carefree and learn funly." (Yes, I know funly isn't a word in English, but the word in Japanese is the adverb form of fun.)
Shrines in Kyoto are HUGE, which is why they can have ridiculously long approaches to the actual shrine. Also, in this case there's Yoshida Shrine (and all the associated mini-shrines) and then about a bazillion shrines that are right next to it, as you will see.
You'll see lists of names like this at most shrines. They list people or corporations who have donated to the shrine. At some shrines, they'll put up a new wall of these every time they have a festival.
...and thus began my very long adventure with STAIRS.
This is the main shrine, which is to say THE Yoshida Shrine.
And here's a shot of the parking lot from inside the shrine. The parking lot is shared with the preschool (which you can see the edge of on the right).
More tiny shrines!
These stairs were kind of terrifying, to be honest. Although the fact that I was carrying a huge bag didn't help.
...and another tiny shrine!
So then I climbed a whole bunch more stairs (some of which were more stair-like than others) and found this playground. Which was apparently on top of a mountain, because in all my stair climbing I had somehow climbed a mountain. Whoo?
So I sat up there for a while to catch my breath, watched the same guy in a grey tracksuit run past me four or five times, and then decided to wander around a bit more.
This torii is positioned over a road. Cars drive through it.
Here's one of the associated shrines I was talking about.
And here's the front of the shrine building.
It's hard to see from this picture, but there was a random cat chilling on the roof of the honden.
WELP, I GUESS MY RESEARCH IS DONE NOW.
This is the approach to an associated Inari shrine.
And here's the Inari shrine.
VERY TINY SHRINE. (This is also an Inari.)
And another tiny shrine.
And a whole hillside of tiny shrines.
Although a lot of these are stone tablets, and not physical buildings.
AND EVEN MORE SHRINES.
So while wandering around, I came across this. On the backs of torii, the date of the torii's construction and the person/family/organization who donated money to build the torii are often recorded.
This one was donated by a cooking club.
The torii in question belongs to this super tiny shrine.
...hey, this one was donated by a cooking club too! HMMMMM.
Oh, well, it's a shrine to the kami of cooking, eating, and drinking. THAT EXPLAINS EVERYTHING.
(If this shrine had sold an omamori, I would have so bought it.)
So after that it was starting to get dark, so I headed back to Kyoto U., where I met up with Steven. We hung out at his apartment for a while and talked about Research and Life and Fulbright and Kyoto. And then we went to meet Michele for dinner at Bikkuri Donkey. If you've never been to Bikkuri Donkey, I think everything on their menu has hamburger in it. And I don't mean American hamburgers--imagine a fat, oblong hamburger patty with nothing on it. Also, Bikkuri Donkey's interior design scheme would be best described as "Chili's meets Fry's Electronics." Um, yeah. I have no pictures, but you can imagine it in your MINDS. Or Google it.
ANYWAY, for some reason the waiter gave us three pairs of chopsticks and only one fork and spoon, so we had fun trying to figure out who they thought needed a fork. We also probably weirded out the Japanese family next to us, but WHATEVER. Anyway, it was really nice to hang out with the two of them.
In other news, Bikkuri Donkey will actually give you four fries if you order one of the plates with fries. FOUR. No more, no less.
Friday night I crashed on Michele's floor (thank you, Michele!) and then woke up to two earthquakes at about 6:30 a.m. It was exciting. I think I only notice earthquakes when I'm asleep.
*If you have never been to Kyoto Station, you cannot possibly imagine the fear it strikes into the hearts of travelers. It is HUGE and SPRAWLING and doesn't really make much sense at all. Like, why are there a million ways to get onto the JR platform but only one to get onto the Kintetsu? What's the deal with the second floor? Just to illustrate how completely confusing this station is, I once got lost trying to walk through it (i.e. enter on the north side and exit on the south side). Yeahhhhh.
Kyoto Adventures (part 2): Saturday Morning Adventures
Michele and Steven were going on a hike the next morning, so I wound up leaving Michele's place really early and sitting by the side of the Kamo River to watch the sunrise. It was GORGEOUS, and I highly recommend it, if you're ever up way too early in Kyoto. However, I had one of the most surreal conversations ever.
Random guy: Good morning.
Me: Good morning.
Random guy: Are you American?
Random guy: I am an unemployed homeless.
Me: Oh, I see...?
Random guy: [pointing at a crane] Do you know what that bird is called?
Me: Um...duck.* WAIT, NO, CRANE.
Random guy: It's not a duck.
Me: It's a crane.
Random guy: Ducks go like [makes quacking noises].
Me: I know, it's a crane.
Random guy: Bye.
IT WAS REALLY WEIRD.
Anyway, I had 4 hours before I was supposed to meet with Mary, so I decided to walk over to the Kyoto International Manga Museum to see when they opened. As it turned out, they opened at 10 and Mary's train was supposed to get in at 11:14, so I decided to wander toward Kyoto Station and see if I ran into anything interesting. (I also stopped at a Starbucks and got breakfast, because Japanese Starbucks apparently sells food that doesn't taste like sawdust. It's amazing. Unfortunately, the Starbucks was playing All Christmas Music All the Time. And also had signs saying, "Let's Merry!" Yeah.)
Anyway, after a bunch of walking, I ran into Higashi Honganji, which is a temple not far from Kyoto Station. There was no entrance fee, so I decided to go inside and check it out.
Here's the main building.
This picture is almost entirely for Miranda and Shannon and Mary. Because DRAGONS.
A huuuuuuuuuuuge bell at the temple. It, like most bells at temples, is rung 108 times at New Year's to signify the 108 sins of humanity.
Here's the main building from a different angle.
The actual temple was pretty underwhelming. A large section of it is being...drat it, what's the English word? Where you're fixing something and making it like new? It's not refurbishing. I HOPE YOU ALL KNOW WHAT I MEAN, 'CAUSE I'M BLANKING HERE. Anyway, they're doing that so all the treasures inside the building were behind closed doors, which meant that there were a lot of rooms that were just tatami rooms with closed sliding doors. Eh.
RESTORED. That's the word.
However, they did have a giant rope made out of human hair! It was...pretty creepy, actually.
Also, there was this amusing sign on the child's seat in the toilet. It says:
Please follow these rules to be safe.
Don't take your eyes off your child.
Be careful not to pinch your finger.
...okay, maybe I'm a little bit too amused by this, but who puts no smoking signs on children's chairs...?
Anyway, aside from the extremely underwhelming temple, there was a really cool exhibit about the life of a woman who was a quadruple amputee but taught herself to sew, knit, and do calligraphy and was a huge advocate of disability support groups in Japan. The exhibit is still running for a little while, so if you find yourself with some free time in Kyoto and you really want to learn about why you should treat gangrene as fast as possible, you should check it out.
This was a sign outside of the temple. Is it just me or does it sound vaguely ominous...? (And, no, it's not Engrish. It says the same thing in Japanese.)
Anyway, I then walked over to Kyoto Station, but it turned out that there had been some sort of trouble with signal lights so all the Shinkansen were EXTREMELY delayed. So Mary's train got in at 11:50 instead of 11:14. Which wouldn't have been a problem except that I had told my host mom that we would be over at noon, and my host family's house is A MILLION MILES AWAY.
*To give myself credit, it's the Kamo River, and "kamo" means "duck."
Kyoto Adventures (part 3): Saturday Afternoon and Evening Adventures
So after tearing across Kyoto at the fastest speed a subway could carry us and then walking with extreme speed, we arrived at my host family's house where I proceeded to apologize profusely forever. My host mom's reaction was, "Well, you haven't changed at all."*
So I met the girl my host parents are currently hosting, which would make her my....step-host sister? Or something? Anyway, she is really nice, and we talked a bunch, and my host mom made us speak in English (as listening practice for my little host brother, Moto). She had never heard me speak English before (I was on language pledge when I lived with them) and commented that I sound very, very different in English, and my personality is different. Which I cannot argue with.
Speaking of host brothers, THEY ARE HUGE WHAT HAPPENED. Kisa (the older one) shot up about a foot and has started shaving (he's THIRTEEN). Moto (the little one) shot up a bunch too. Otherwise, they are essentially exactly the same as they were when I was staying with them. Moto is still obsessed with Michael Jackson (although now he has also become a ninja cameraman) and Kisa is still obsessed with Harry Potter and soccer.
Also, my host mom is still an amazing cook. She made takoyaki, which are these little dough-and-cabbage-and-octopus ball-shaped things, except hers also had sausage and konnyaku in them which sounds gross but is AMAZING. Seriously, if I could cook a quarter as well as her I would die happy forever. Also, we cooked them on a grill on the table and I think Mary has found a new favorite activity. I must admit that it's kind of insanely fun, because you pour the batter into the mold and then wait and wait and wait and then circle the outside of the mold with a toothpick and flip the takoyaki over and SOMEHOW it becomes a perfect sphere, no matter how inept you are with the toothpick.
So we talked a whole bunch about Life and Boyfriends and Grad School and The Future and How Insanely Large My Host Brothers Are** and Whether You Can Substitute Shijimi for Asari (can I just say that I appreciate that my host mom will totally have culinary conversations with me instead of saying that I cook like an old person?) and The Various Senseis at KCJS and Whether Christian Funerals Are More or Less Depressing Than Buddhist Ones and Whether It's a Good Idea to Not Learn Kanji (It's Really Not). Also, I would just like to state, for the record, that my name and ラブラブ (sort of like "lovey-dovey") probably shouldn't be used in the same sentence unless you're being ironic. JUST SO YOU KNOW.
As I was leaving, my host dad poked his head out of the restaurant*** to say hi to me.**** And then immediately after that:
Host dad: You got skinnier.
Host mom: It's because she's in love.
Host dad: Oh, okay.
ISN'T BEING IN LOVE SUPPOSED TO MAKE YOU FATTER (at least if you're a guy)?*****
Anyway, it was good times, and I was reminded of how much I adore my host family and yes.
After that, I managed to fail at finding the tea ceremony museum I visited last time I was in Kyoto, and then we wound up passing Shirahime Shrine. I'd visited before, so I have very limited pictures from this time. In any case, it's a shrine that grants success in sports that are played with balls, which means that it has soccer balls and basket balls and golf balls and baseballs all over the place.
Here's the shrine office.
These are a series of ema from a group of girls who are all on the same high school soccer team.
So after that we checked into our hotel room (at Tour Club Kyoto, which I can highly recommend, especially if you don't speak Japanese) and got dinner. After dinner I met with Takabayashi-san, the leader of my host brothers' Boy Scout troop, and he was kind enough to talk to me for two hours. I will save that story for another time, though, 'cause this blog post is already going to be insanely long.
*That was referring to my apologizing, not my being late, for the record. My host mom is amazing, but also teases me CONSTANTLY. Her most common reasons for teasing me included:
1. My apologizing all the time.
2. Her being taller than me even though I'm American.
3. My being really bad at being stereotypically American.
4. My knowing obscure Japanese terms.
5. My being interested in really obscure Japanese things.
**Host mom: Kisa's gotten taller... Moto's gotten taller... You haven't gotten taller...
Me: I'M TRYING.
***My host family owns a restaurant, which is the downstairs of their house. I got to eat there last time I visited, and I really highly recommend it.
If you want to visit, they have a website!
It's a bit on the pricey side (5,500 yen or 7,000 yen for a course meal at dinner and cheaper for lunch), but well worth your money.
Be aware that my host dad will probably try to talk to you if you sit at the counter, and he's basically incomprehensible if you don't speak Kyoto dialect.
****AND HE HAS HAIR NOW. WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT. I guess he was shaving his head before. EVERYTHING I BELIEVED WAS WRONG.
*****The idea is that your girlfriend will start cooking for you and you'll gain weight. So "Have you gained weight?" can be a compliment, hinting that maybe you have a special someone in your life.
Kyoto Adventures (part 4): Sunday Adventures
Sunday started out with a bang, or, really, with a parfait.
First Japanese parfait I have ever had and DANG IT WAS GOOD. Bizarre, but GOOOOOOOOOOD.
P.S. We are adults which means we can eat parfaits for breakfast. OH YEAH.
And then we hopped on a train and went to Fushimi Inari!
...where there were foxes EVERYWHERE.
...and torii EVERYWHERE.
...and small children in kimono EVERYWHERE because it's shichigosan.
There are ema shaped like torii.
A bunch of kids lined up for shichigosan ceremonies...
Here's the start of the veeeeeeeeeeeery long torii-lined walk all the way around the mountain.
People drew faces on them.
And more torii!
Here's the view from near the top of the mountain.
People put their business cards up here to gain success in business. Of course, it turned out that I had given my last business card to Takabayashi-san the previous day. AUGH.
...and more torii!
There were a bunch of huge spiders along the trail.
Japan is not a good place for you if you have a spider phobia.
This fox statue is kind of creepy, to be honest.
Along the trail there are a lot of turn offs which are full of tiny shrines that "belong" to individuals. That doesn't stop anyone else from praying there.
The torii path went around the mountain and through the woods...
Here's a fox statue dressed in the clothes you would normally see on a jizo.
At one of the turn offs there was this random waterfall...
...into a bucket. I think it's for cold water austerities?
OH MY GODS, GAIJIN. WHAT THE FORK IS YOUR PROBLEM. I am glad you woz 'ere, Keele or whatever your name is, but you do realize that this is a sacred place, right? And when you do this all the other gaijin look bad too? UGGGGGGGGH.
And another huge spider. I would rather be friends with this spider than someone who graffitis torii.
...and descending the mountain...
Here's an interesting mix of a bunch of religious objects from very different religious traditions...
The sign says, "BE WARY OF MOLESTERS."
So then we hopped on a train and went to Nijo Castle, but first we walked to Sanjo, where we passed...
...the giant animatronic crab restaurant. There's one in Nagoya too!
There was a flower exhibition going on at Nijo Castle.
And here's the castle.
And here's more of the castle.
The castle's famous for its "nightingale floors"; the floors...sing...or make this really odd noise when you walk on them. They were made that way so that no one could sneak up on Tokugawa Ieyasu and assassinate him. And, man, there were a lot of people who wanted to assassinate him.
Here's the back of the castle.
And the garden...
...and a moat...
The leaves weren't really changing color yet, as you can probably tell from the pictures.
Heheheheh. I have done my duty.
Anyway, after that I managed to get us really lost for a while before we managed to find a train station and went back to Kyoto station to take the Shinkansen back to our respective cities.
Needless to say, today I was pretty exhausted (and my feet and knees needed a rest).
Moral of the story: I love Kyoto. I'd forgotten how much I love the atmosphere there. It was really awesome to hang out with people. It would have been a lot harder to go back to Nagoya if I weren't so excited for research this week. I will be doing something research related every day this week except Wednesday, I believe, and Wednesday I'll probably be reading, which is research related. I am a huge research nerd.
Anyway, I will end this INSANELY long post now. G'night!