Japan Part 8: Home of the Fox Gods

This morning, the breakfast at the ryokan was much more suited to my appetite than my host mama’s extravagant cooking. She was a great cook, but it was nice to just have some simple toast, eggs, and juice and call it good without feeling like I was going to explode.

Our breakfast was nice and short, and I spent my time watching the koi pond outside the window while waiting for the others to finish. The rain was drizzling down, but considering that May/June is the start of the rainy season in Japan, I suppose it’s not too surprising. In fact, the rain gave Kyoto a nice feeling of antiquity.

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[Wire above the pond is necessary to protect from greedy cats]

Once breakfast was wrapped up, we got a day pass for the Kyoto bus system and packed ourselves into the small bus to await our stop (which was, conveniently, one of the last). I personally really enjoy public transportation, so I was quite happy to be on the bus watching Kyoto fly by outside. Sarah, on the other hand, was not at all happy. She was standing a bit off to one side, white-knuckling one of the vertical handrails with both hands, clinging to it as if it were her only salvation from falling off a cliff. What’s the matter with her? I muse.

The disgruntled look on her face was something that I’d been getting quite used to, as it appears that her primary reason for coming to Japan was to shop, not to practice Japanese or to experience the culture. Therefore, when we weren’t shopping, she wasn’t smiling. Ever.

As soon as a seat opened up, Sarah sprang into it, explaining that “I have a hard enough time going down stairs.” Did you ever learn to walk? Come on. You’re taking a seat because you just can’t stand riding buses and don’t want to stand up. You’re never going to get better balance if you never practice. How about saving that seat for a little old lady?

Anyway, after about a half an hour of riding, our bus finally stopped in time for us to disembark. Before us was the famous Kinkakuji – the Golden Temple.

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I walked slowly, savoring the wide water gardens and the glimmering gilded walls reflecting onto a pond nearly bursting with friendly koi fish. There were people everywhere, certainly, but that didn’t make me any less excited to be there.

When I want to crowd-push, I can crowd-push like a boss.

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After meandering along the stone paths behind the temple and watching people throw coins to the small shrines along the way, I came to a wall of charm dedications and a shrine for prayer candles. One charm wished that a boy would reveal his phone number to the hopeful girl, and another prayed that someday she would be smiling next to a person that she loves.

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A slight drizzle as we were leaving forced us to pop open our umbrellas, but it didn’t last long. We walked to some temples that were nearby, and I enjoyed seeing how many temples are similar yet how all have a touch of uniqueness about them. In one temple, Ryoanji, was a sacred stone garden. I sat on the edge of the wooden floor with Sensei, observing in welcome silence.

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Silence is golden. And you don’t need to be at a golden temple to appreciate it.

The woods near the temple were cool from the rain, which had subsided for the moment, so I decided to walk close to the edge of the pond. Lo and behold, something glittering at my feet caught my eye – a snake. A very long, long snake.

He paused, watching me before deciding that I was beneath his notice and continuing on his way. Sensei was thrilled that we had seen such a snake during this, the year of the snake. She pronounced it a favorable omen.

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Still cheery from meeting Mr. Snake, I was a little reluctant to leave the nice, forested area in order to go get lunch. When we entered the restaurant, Sensei asked if we’d like to sit at western tables or at the traditional tables. Everyone paused.

Seriously? You have to think about this?

I spoke up and said that we should sit at the traditional tables (i.e. on the floor on cushions on top of the tatami mats). Sensei and I both ordered cold udon noodles in order to chill ourselves after the long, humid day. Naturally, I couldn’t eat them all – isn’t America supposed to be the place with the way-too-big serving sizes? They were delicious though. Don’t be fooled by their apparently icky greyness.

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After lunch, the plan was to visit Nijojo, a castle in central Kyoto. Unfortunately, we arrived 15 minutes too late, and we were not allowed to enter. Just then, Josh spoke up with a chuckle that he knew it closed at 4:30.

Josh knew what time it closed and still let us go there. What’s up with that?

Sensei, a few others, and I were disappointed, but a few didn’t seem to care. We returned to the bus stop, where Josh told Sensei that he wanted to go off on his own to Inari. Considering that he is a regular traveler in Japan, she had no problem with this. However, Taylor, Amy, and I decided to split from the group and tag along as well.

Ah, Fushimi Inari – the mountain of arches and home to the head shrine of the fox gods. SO excited. One article says this of kitsune, the fox spirits: “Foxes and human beings lived close together in ancient Japan; this companionship gave rise to legends about the creatures. Kitsune have become closely associated with Inari, a Shinto kami or spirit, and serve as its messengers. This role has reinforced the fox’s supernatural significance. The more tails a kitsune has—they may have as many as nine—the older, wiser, and more powerful it is. Because of their potential power and influence, some people make offerings to them as to a deity.”

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Fushimi Inari was not originally on our itinerary, but I just couldn’t miss it, so I sacrificed my time of rest in order to see it. Sunset was darkening the mountain quickly, so we had to hurry. Originally, we were going to climb the entire mountain, but night fell too fast and we doubled back.

Patience, children. We ended up returning to Fushimi Inari the next day. You’ll get your picture tour of the amazing fox shrine and the geishas within it in the next post.

After Inari, which was my favorite part of the trip so far, we made our way back to the ryokan and had only a few minutes of rest before Sensei took us all out to a conbini again.

I’d rather have that than sit at dinner for an hour and a half at this point, believe me. Japanese conbinis have everything.

At the store, I got some sort of ramen that involved mayonnaise and egg, some bread with corn and sauce, strawberry jam bread, and some peach juice. I hauled all of it back into Brian’s room to continue the movie marathon we’d started the previous night. Tonight’s movie?

Cloud Atlas. Unfortunately, the movie was so long that we decided to save the second half of it for the next day. To be honest, it was kind of blowing my mind anyway. What’s it about? Well…err…here. Read this synopsis that I didn’t write.

Cloud Atlas explores how the actions and consequences of individual lives impact one another throughout the past, the present, and the future. Action, mystery, and romance weave dramatically through the story as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero and a single act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution in the distant future. Each member of the ensemble appears in multiple roles as the stories move through time.

 

Once we’d given up on finishing the movie in one night, we resigned ourselves to our futons and welcomed the sleep that came quickly.

Things I wonder: How do the people who work at the temples feel about tourists? Are they happy that the temples are getting attention, or do they feel that the sacredness is being violated?

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