Saturday, March 26, 2011

Kyoto (day 2)

The next day, I got up early and headed to the train alone. It was really fun traveling with my new friends, but it was also time to do my own thing now.

From Kyoto, I took a train a few stops to Fushimi-Inari Station, just down a block from the shrine. It started raining while I walked along the gravel, between the buildings of the shrine towards the back of the complex.

I knew of this place from a scene in memoirs of a Geisha, where as a young girl, she is shown running through a seemingly endless row of red torii. I'd never seen such a thing before, and the image poked deeply into my curiosity. When I bought the Japan Lonely Planet guide, one of the first things I looked for was to see if there was a picture of this place, so I could know what it was called. I found one in the Kyoto section of the book, and learned that it was called Fushimi-Inari Taisha, a 1200 year old shrine that had been dedicated to the deities of rice and sake, but has recently given way to the contemporary deities of business. There is a 4km trail into the hill, most of which is lined with hundreds and hundreds of these red torii, two large beams joined  by a cross beam at the top.

I walked most of the trail, enthralled by the atmosphere. I didn't mind the rain much, this far from the usual world, rain didn't matter. It actually made the place feel that much more mystical.

About half way in, there was a shrine with a few graves and some stone foxes, keys to the rice granaries held in their jaws. Everything was old and moss covered. It was so hard to remember that I was just miles from of the city, in one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world. It felt more like I'd just stepped off the train in Bali.

I spent the morning walking up and down the hill, through the torii, wondering what was written on each one.

When, finally, I'd exhausted all the possible trails, and was satisfyingly saturated, I walked back to the train, and headed toward and old neighborhood in Kyoto still known for Geisha and teahouses. I found out that foreigners generally aren't welcome in the teahouses, since we don't have a whole lot of , if any, knowledge of Japanese teahouse etiquette and that geishas don't generally spend much time hangin' out in the street! Apparently, early evening is the best time to spot them, as they head to their appointments, but I had a train to catch at 3, so I wandered around, just enjoying where I was. I did happen to come across a group of three geisha walking down the street, though. They were probably maiko, apprentice geisha, but it was all the same for me. I couldn't bring myself to take their picture, though. I think I didn't want to cheapen the moment, or maybe I just couldn't look away from them in time to get my camera. I did take one once they'd already passed, and the spell of their glances had worn off.

Looking back, if I'd known better, I might have made my way to Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion Temple, or something like that, but at the time, walking along the old streets, lined with traditional wood-shingle houses was fine. I actually found a Thai restaurant, where I had a decent green curry and an interesting looking dessert made from dragon fruit. But before long it was time to head back to the station and catch a train to Hiroshima, which happened to be right between Kyoto and Fukuoka, on the same line.

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