Kyoto is in a fantastic struggle between past and present. After taking the bullet train through the rice paddy-checkerboard countryside I arrived at Kyoto station, a controversial block-like building cutting through the Kyoto skyline. Across from the station is Kyoto tower. I didn't go up to the viewing deck because of the low-lying fog and smog which hung to the skyline the whole time I was in Kyoto. Once I had found my dorm with the help of several passers-by I headed out on the town. Kyoto is renowned for it's tea house district crawling with geishas and weary business men. I had planned on going to the gion (the tea house district) but I was still pretty sick and settled on wondering around the Kyoto station area instead. I managed to find a ramen noodle bar for supper. A very popular place I gathered, since they had to turn people away while I was there. After some guess and point ordering I ended up with a broken egg over rice, gyoza, miso soup and fried chicken. The food was fantastic, but far too much for me to finish. After eating I explored the streets leading away from the station. All
of the temples were closed which meant that a great deal of the more interesting parts of the city were off limits. I ended up trying my hand at pachinko with the help of an attendant (I had no idea what was going on). It turns out I'm pretty bad at pachinko since I only got 55 out of 1000 steel balls into the little opening in the middle of the board. By the time I was finished my muscles were tired and my throat was killing me so I headed to bed. The next day I woke up early to fight the crowd and get a bicycle for the day. It was one of the best things I've done so far. I missed biking a lot and to bike around a Japanese city was so classic and typical it was a great experience. I headed to the Gion only to find out that it's probably one of the quietest places in the entire country at 8 in the morning. All of the teahouses were closed and the only people I saw were maikos (like geishas in training) out to get breakfast. I got myself decently lost and ended up
at the Yasaka-jinja, a peaceful shrine. I arrived just as all of the monks werre going in for prayer so the place was pretty much deserted with the exception of a few tourists. Afterwards I headed to Kiyomizu-dera, one of the first buddist temples to incorperate a shinto shrine on its property. The pathway up to the temple was very steep and windy and I was out of breath by the time I reached the gates. Unfortunately I wasn't allowed to park my bicycle at the gates so I wondered around looking for a good place to stash it. I ended up finding the Kyoto graveyard. A huge graveyard on the side of a hill overlooking the city. It was beautiful in a morbid kind of way and once I'd followed the path through the graveyard for a while I found the parking lot where the attendant let me put ,y bike in the corner. The half-hour search for a parking place was well worth it. Kiyomizu-dera is definitely my favorite temple among the ones I've visited. Passing through the huge temple gates there are samurai statues on either side. One is mouthing "a" while the other mouths "om" the
first and last letters of the sanskrit alphabet. Surroundign the main hall is a huge dancing stage jutting out over the valley below. An popular Japanes proverb relates taking a big risk in life to jumping off of the dancing stage. Once I'd navigated through the main hall I found Jinju, the shinto shrine. This is one of the most popular shrines because it's where the god of love resides. At the enterance there are two big stones set about 10 meters apart and if you're able to make it from one stone to the other with your eyes closed without stumbling you are guarenteed love and marriage. The shrine is very popular with junior-high aged children and they take the walk very seriously. If they don't make it from one stone to the other they're absolutely crushed. I was able to make it quite easily, so I guess love and marriage are in the bag for me. There's also a tree in the shrine that's full of little holes. It turns out that when Japanese women were in a feud they would nail a doll to the tree that represented the person that they were fighting with and it
was certain to bring the other person bad luck until the doll was removed. I returned to the dancing stage overlooking Otowa-no-taki, a "waterfall" which is supposed to give divine power to true believers. I left the temple and made my way down Sannen-zaka (three year slope) a steep and windy road which houses the pottery district. It's said that if you stumble while walking down this street you'll have three years of bad luck. I was very careful.
After having my fill of pottery and navigating my way back to the graveyard to find my bicycle I went to Sanjusangen-do, which houses the 1000-hand kannon and her 1000 servants. It was breathtaking turning the corner in the great hall and seeing 1000 life-sized golden statues. Each one has a different face and it is common to see some of the Japanes searching for a face that looks like their own. Unfortunately you're not allowed to take pictures of any of the relics at the temple, so all I have is a picture of the huge wooden hall from the outside. Actually the no picture rule makes it better because each visitor gets to see the statues first-hand and they're
magnificent. Once I had made my way through the hall I was running out of time so I headed back to the hostel to return my bike and catch my train back to Tokyo.
Back in Tokyo I met two hilarious Australian travellers, Ben and Adam, who pretty much wanted to see all of Tokyo in 5 hours. We set off to the Akihabara district straight after supper. This is where all of the great electronic inventions are thought up. The night is lit up with neon and the air hums with electricity. We wondered around for about half an hour just snapping photos of the huge neon signs (Adam was really into neon). Afterwards we headed to the Ginza, an enormous trendy shopping area in the heart of Tokyo. Unfortunately almost everything was closed so we just wondered the streets looking at all of the places we wished we could go into. Later we headed to Roppongi, the nightlife area of Tokyo. We were almost immediately approached by a bar tout who dragged us away to a "big and tall" themed bar (Ben is over 6 feet tall and he was tiny compared to the girls in that bar).
We headed home pretty quick, especially since the subway in Tokyo stops running soon after midnight.
The next day we all woke up at 6 and headed to sumo practice. It started just after 7 so we thought that if we arrived around 6:30 we would have plenty of time. It turned out that people had already been lining up for hours to see the sumo practice. Our hostel is was in an area called Ryogoku, where Tokyo's sumo arena is and many of the national champions practice there. The sumo practice was really cool and it turned out that the huge line up of people only filled up the bottom half of the stadium. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the settings on my camera to keep the sumo wrestlers from looking orange and ended up getting into a little bit of trouble for taking too many pictures from the stairwell which got me really close to the wrestlers. After about an hour of practice we headed to McDonalds for a healthy breakfast and then back to the hostel to get ready for the day. Ben and Adam went to Kyoto and I spent the
remainder of my time in Tokyo in an area called Shibuya. I chose to get off the train there because I thought it sounded cool. It turned out to be an enormous street crossing and a lot of small trendy expensive shopping area. I spent most of my time entertaining myself in the HMV, listening to the latest Japanese music. Once 3:00 rolled around I regrettably made my way back to the airport and borded my plane for home.
Tot: 1.635s; Tpl: 0.061s; cc: 7; qc: 45; dbt: 0.0254s; 1; m:saturn w:www (22.214.171.124); sld: 3;
; mem: 1.4mb