Over the last few days, I’ve been staying at a hostel in Kyoto called K’s House. It might be the best one that I’ve ever stayed at. It’s nearly brand new, has clean, comfortable rooms, great facilities, a good kitchen, and really terrific common areas. It’s big enough that there are always people to hang around with, but it never felt crowded. It’s as if somebody built it on purpose. I’ve also heard great things about another hostel in Kyoto called J-hoppers. Looking back on the trips that I’ve taken, nothing has affected how good a time I’ve had nearly as much as finding the right place to stay. I’ll be back there this weekend.
In terms of touring the sights, I haven’t been exactly an over-achiever. This is a big city and it takes a while to get around. A combination of the short winter days, some of which have been rainy, not exactly getting up at the crack of dawn, and some mid-trip laziness have contributed to not getting very far through my checklist of sites. At the same time, I’ve met some great people over the past few days and have been having fun.
A few days ago I went down to the Fushimi Shinto shrine. It’s known for have hundreds of Torii gates lined up over top of a foot path up and down the mountain. It’s a pretty incredible place. The gates are each donated by companies and wealthy people. Over time they rot away if not kept up by, I’m assuming, further donations.
Here’s a photo of a tree at the Toji shrine. It’s interesting how they prune these trees to have long, sweeping branches, which can’t support their own weight. They support them with poles. On the surface it would seem to defeat the effect, but it lends it’s own effect.
Steffen and Bret, please correct me if I’ve misunderstood this, but from talking with Steffen, there is no word in Japanese for “nature,” at least not as we use it in the West. There’s no word for “nature” that is the opposite of “culture” or “man-made.” I also have some photos of the gardens at Shokoku-ji. Here’s one of a stone Torii gate. One of the peculiar things ar Japan in general, and Kyoto especially is the combination and adaptation of influences from multiple sources. Shokoku-ji is a Zen Buddhist Monastery, and Torii gates are from the Shinto tradition. It’s not unusual to find Torii gates marking the entrance to a Buddhist location. I’ve read that prior to the introduction of Buddhism to Japan, there was no word for Shinto. It just was.
On my last full day in Kyoto (so far), I headed out to the Arashiyama area of western Kyoto with a German friend named Moritz. We discovered Soba noodles, which are like spaghetti made from buckwheat. They’re terrific and plentiful, served in a broth with mushrooms and green onions. Along with don-buri (rice with a raw egg), they’re becoming my staple here. On the ceiling of the teaching hall at Tenryu-ju temple, there’s huge painting of a dragon which really seems to be looking straight at you regardless of where you stand. I was not allowed to take a photo of it, but here’s a photo of the flyer.
After it got dark out, we walked through a nearby section of bamboo forest that they’ve illuminated with spotlights, the effect was interesting, though not as amazing as the billboards would have you believe. I took a few dozen shots with a digital SLR camera and an image stabilizing lens. This one is as close as I got to a good shot. More interesting was the river of Japanese tourists flowing up and down the narrow streets, snapping photos with their cell phones. So far, I think that Arashiyama is my favorite area of Kyoto; there’s a little more elbow room and great food.