Published: October 27th 2007October 26th 2007
Little Fox Feeling
An Inari Fox, a symbol for my days in Kansai?
I just had a great adventure in the Kansai region this week. It was the perfect break from the increasingly chilly Hokkaido and a long slog of work weeks.
I arrived in Kobe airport on Monday morning. I hadn't been in Kobe since last January with my basketball team. It was all very familiar, except now I was on my own and there were warm green leaves on all the trees. I took the train to Sannomiya station, negotiated the JR line signboard, and was quickly whisked away toward Kyoto. It is a strange feeling to be in a totally foreign environment, but because I live in the country I am used to everything and have no trouble getting around.
I arrived in Kyoto station and I realized that I had left my hotel address and confirmation back in Sapporo. Not to worry, I just set off to find the nearest McDonald's, chomp down a Big Mac and decide my next course of action. I figured out what subway stop was closest and headed in that direction. I popped up near the Imperial Palace and what should I see, but my first bit of old Japan. A huge parade
The view from my hotel room.
with drums, samurais, white faced women, horses, banners, and all manner of traditional costumes. Great introduction to Kyoto! I wandered around a bit and found my hotel.
My hotel was ridiculous, complete with wrap around sofa, two comfortable beds, and a great view of traditonal Japanese rooves. It felt like Vegas with a little bit of a "floating world" touch. I settled in for a long sleep and then woke up to take on the nightlife. I knew there was one bar I wanted to go to, but being new it was almost impossible to find. When I got there I of course didn't know anybody so I just ordered a beer and some food and sat down to assess the scene.
I noticed some people playing with a jukebox. I figured this was it. What better to relax myself than to make the bar my own by playing some of my own music. I started out with some Ben Folds Five and things began to change. I started playing darts with this Danish guy, after we finished he asked if I wanted a beer. So while he bought our round. I strategically sat myself down in the
School groups were everywhere.
middle of the room. It was interesting explaining to someone who had never been to Japan how things were. There are a lot more tourists in Kyoto, something that apart from the snow festival we don't get in Sapporo. There a lot of gaijin couples and they obviously can't speak Japanese. Its kind of fun because in them I recognized myself on previous visits of mine to places like Beijing and Bangkok.
Anyway, after a while talking to the Danish guy I get up to talk to these Japanese girls and ask them what they are reading. They are very friendly and soon all three of us are laughing together. Then I motion for my new friend the Dane, proving to be the perfect wingman by waiting patiently, to come over and introduce him to the girls. He was obviously happy as they were the first japanese girls he had drank with since he had only gotten in the day before. It felt good to help him out. Anyway, we had a great time just joking around, (Spark off, and other jokes). When the bar shut down all four of us went out for some chicken and noodles. It
This one was very claustaphobic!
was a great first night.
The next day I lazily got up around noon and discovered I had a problem. I didn't have clue what to see in Kyoto. So I opened my LP Japan and began flipping the pages. I came across a picture of some orange gates. These must be the original gates that inspired the art installation in Central Park 2006 that my mom and I were so delighted with and that I had seen in Memoirs of a Geisha. So off I went to Inari Shrine. I read about the foxes whose statues dotted the shrine. They are said to be capable of possessing humans and leading them astray. They frequently entered through under the fingernails so you shouldn't put your hands near their mouths.
At Inari Shrine, and everywhere else in Kyoto, there are school groups everywhere. It seems like every Japanese person over 18 I meet has been to Kyoto with their school. There was orange everywhere. I loved walking through the gates past the foxes. The gates wandered and rambled through the mountain forest. Sometimes I was completely alone with just the sounds of the forest around me traveling under that
They made it feel like you were underground and in the woods all at the same time.
orange framework, but always under the watchful eye of the clever fox. I would sometimes step off into the woods, away from the lantern lit passage way, and soak in where I was.
Then I got a feeling that that was enough and it was time to go. I headed back down the wooded hill and found a quiet spot where I decided to head to the two main temples near Kyoto station. It was great walking in the sunshine. All throughout my vacation I felt transported. Transported back into summer. I wore shorts and sandals and felt myself relax. Sapporo is great for its small closenit gaijin community, but this city was beautiful laid out Japanese, and the weather was more desirable than I would let myself admit.
I wandered around the temples. At the second temple I walked inside, took my sandals off, and just sat down on the tatami mats and reflected. I felt my breathing become easier and I thought clearly. I thought about my place in Japan and the meaning of my meeting the next day. Feeling refreshed and centered I got up and went back to my hotel room.
Temples provided places to think.
I wanted to see the hidden traditional Kyoto life, the floating world. I headed toward the river and Ponto-Cho. I walked down the narrow centuries-old lane. The crimson lanterns lighting the shops and the narrow alley. I could have touched both sides of it my stretching out my arms. I kept on walking till the crowds thinned and I found myself wandering along a small canal with yellow lights. Behind and under cracked doors I could see hushed feet shuffling around. These were old geisha houses. Always just out of sight. It was quiet and it was mysterious.
I headed back into the modern nightlife to get some beers and dinner, but on my way back home I headed back for that narrow lane. This time there was no one left there beacuse of the late time. All of a sudden a heard the clicking of sandals and who should float out onto the paving stones, but a maiko-a young geisha. All painted white with her jet black hair pulled up. She wore a red yutaka and carried something in her arms. She turned away and shuffled down the lane and disappered into the mist. It was like I
The Golden Temple floating on the lake.
had seen a ghost from the past.
The next morning I again woke up late. Before the events of the night I wanted to make sure to see one more thing in Kyoto. I happened upon Kinkakuji, the golden temple that appered to float upon a blue lake. Some monk had become so obsessed with it that he had burned it down in 1950, but it had been completely rebuilt and infact more gold was added to its spendor. I waded through the school groups and admired its beauty, ate some green tea ice cream. After that I met a friend and her parents who were visiting from the States. After downing a couple of bottle of Yebisu I headed back to the hotel to rest.
That night I caught up with a Kyoto female, who I had met back in August in Sapporo. We went to many bars that I never would have found on my own. I had forgotten that she did not speak English. However, over the next few hours I would be impressed by how much my Japanese fluency had increased. It was a fantastic night. The kind of night only a local can
A Window to Think
Tommy No Papers pondering an atmosphere and his place in it.
bring out. She suggested that the next day we should go to Osaka together before I got on my flight. It turned out to be an inspired an idea.
The next morning I checked out of my hotel and rushed to meet her at Kyoto Station. It took a while to find each other since the station is massive, but when we finally met she suggested having a quick bite to eat at McDonald's. What a girl.
We got on the train to Osaka with the conductor pointing the way. We visted Osaka-Jo, a huge castle towering on a hill. But I wanted more. I wanted to see Osaka's famous exuberance. So we headed for the Namba district. It was amazing. It was a Thursday afternoon, but there was noise and frivolity everywhere. We walked down this flashy road. There was a electricity in the air, as if the shops themselves were alive. I fell in love with Osaka right there! We ate yakisoba and just rested in the Osaka craziness.
She took me to the train that would take me to Kansai airport. Again it was great to be traveling with a local. We said our goodbyes. As I rushed toward the airport I looked out the window my head spinning with images of the marvels of a October in Kansai and a little fox feeling.