Before I begin, I'd like to state, for the record, that I HATE being sick! Since today is a holiday (culture day), I was going to go down to Tokyo and wander around...I haven't been down there for forever...but when I woke up this morning I had a terrible cough and breathing isn't much fun at the moment. *sigh* I guess since I didn't really get sick last winter I'm making up for it now?
Day 3 in Kyoto
Ok, so in the previous day we'd gone to touristy spots that were easy bus rides from our hotel. (though almost everything in central Kyoto is easy to get to...I _love_ their bus system.) On this day we decided to start from further afield and work our way back in. So, our first destination was back to Kyoto station, the transportation hub (though it is a bit confusing inside with all the different platforms. Not impossible, just confusing.), since we were heading to Fushimi Inari Shrine and thus needed to take a train. If you take the JR line, it's only 2 stops away from Kyoto (which is what we did, since Virginia had the railpass).
When we got off the train, there was no problem finding the shrine, it's literally two blocks away from the station...impossible to miss, especially because of this. That big red adverisement is just the beginning. Some of you may have heard about this shrine. It's pretty famose and there are many pictures of it's tori floating around. As well as the many tori (which I will show you in a minute) there are also countless statues of kitsune, or fox spirits (I think they are my favorite of the various supernatural animals in Japanese mythology, they're tricksters and shapeshifters), here is one of the pair of kitsune statues that guard the front entrance. Now, on to the tori! These first gates are probably the most famose, even before I'd gotten to Japan, I'd seen pictures of them. As you can see, they aren't too tall, but they are packed so close together that it's a pretty spectacular visual. (on a side note, that last picture took me forever to get because there were so many people around that someone would keep walking into my shot.) The previous two pictures were taken facing up the mountain, away from the main shrine, this one is facing back down (same little tori though). I think the kanji are names and dates (since I recognise numbers and the month kanji), but don't quote me on that. All the tori throughout the extensive shrine grounds have writing carved into their backs, when you walk up the mountain you don't see anything, but walking down you do. Here's a view of some of the big tori (the small ones are only at the very beginning and it's for a pretty short stretch), complete with a random blurry person who walked into the frame at the last second. Once I noticed the writing, I didn't take as many pictures from the blank sides of the tori because I think it looks more interesting from this direction.
As V and I were walking up the mountain (we didn't go all the way to the top for two reasons - one, she wasn't feeling very well, and two - it's a long hike!), we noticed that the tori were in varous stages of decay. It seems that as the pillars rot away, or are eaten by insects, they just let them go and put in a new one (donated by someone else? likely) in it's place. There are some permanent stone tori among all the red and black wooden ones, I think they serve to anchor the rest. (If you don't know the shrine, fyi, all the paths are lined with these gates, you walk under them practically the whole time you're there.)
We caught the train back into Kyoto and headed out to Kinkakuji (the Golden pavilion). We'd decided earlier that we only needed to see one of the pavilions (the other is Ginkakuji, the Silver pavilion) and I'd been informed, by a reliable source, that Kinkakuji was far more spectacular, so...we caught a bus (*gasp* another one >_<). It was a bit of a ride, about 20 minutes or so, but it was pretty neat. The tickets were pretty too, I kept mine but I had to fold it to keep it from being crumpled in my purse (they are thick paper with calligraphy and a couple of red hankos (seal/stamp) over it). So, you go in and they give you a little pamphlet with some points of interest in English, Japanese, Chinese and Korean. Once you get through the gate and past a little garden/landscape thing, you see a pond and this. Even though it wasn't very sunny, it's pretty spectacular...I wonder what the pavilion would look like in full sun (in person, I have seen pictures). Here is another one, my lovely sister and the golden pavilion. From there, we hiked around the pond (it's really too small to be called a lake, in my opinion) and up the hill to the other temple buildings (the complex is properly called Rokuonji). Up there we got icecream (it was really hot, even without too much sun) and some fortunes. There were fortune machines in the same languages that were on the pamphlet so we each got an english one (I don't buy the fortunes unless I can read them, how else will I know if I want to keep it or tie it to a bush?).
Leaving the temple, we caught a couple of buses back to the Higashiyama area, and the National museum. Unfortunatly, we didn't realize/remember that the museum was closed on mondays and that it was, in fact, a monday....oops ^_^; So we got on another bus and went wandering through Gion.
Gion, however it may be romantically painted in books, is really nothing more than a big shopping district. The only difference that I could see was that they were selling more traditional goods than other places. Not that it wasn't interesting, because it was, just not what you might expect. We did find a very cool craft market, still touristy but much less kitch than the other place we went (I found some pretty cool stuff there ^_^). We also got some traditional sweets...yum! We didn't spend too much time there, just kinda wandered through, stopping if we saw something that caught our attention. Since V still wasn't feeling too hot, we made our way back towards the hotel. Since we were pretty close, we walked down the Pontocho alley. This is where the more traditional teahouses and geisha (geiko in kansai-ben) establishments are. It really is an alley, small and the buildings kinda overhang, very atmospheric. We didn't see any geisha or maiko but I did take this picture, at Virginia's urging. That lantern was as tall as me! I'm glad I took the picture because I like it a lot (some of you may recognize it as my msn icon). We eventually got back to the hotel and V crashed. I read for a bit, but when it got dark I went out by myself to explore the area a bit.
Let me tell you, it was pretty crazy out there! I didn't do anything but wander around, but it was exciting. That night was also a festival, they light huge characters on the hills surrounding Kyoto. I went down to the river, but where we were there wasn't really anything to see so I just had some dinner and wandered around some more before going back to the hotel and sleeping.
Next - the last full day... (maybe I'll even post it sooner this time)