Kyoto: Tuesday

2016-Jul-27, Wednesday 00:56
dorchadas: (Eight Million Gods)
Late night, late morning, and the rain that had been predicted nearly every day in the weather report finally arrived. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd went out with [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture to fetch breakfast, and then came back, ate, and we left just under the buzzer to allow the hotel staff to clean our room.

Everyone else wanted to go over to Arashiyama on the west side of Kyoto, their various original plans having been scuppered by the rain. They decided this when we were already on the bus toward Ginkakuji, though, so we stayed on and alighted in northeastern Kyoto in a light rain. We walked hand-in-hand for about five minutes through houses and small shops and, next to a children's park made of dirt with a single swing and slide, we found the entrance to Hōnen-in.


Shadows and light.

I read about Hōnen-in this morning, and while the website I read said the central building was only open for two weeks a year, in April and November, it also said that the grounds had a lovely moss covering and were little-visited. Both of those sounded like huge bonuses, so I asked [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd about it and she was all in favor. And it was exactly as advertised. I did have to wait for a couple other tourists to move out of the way to take that picture, but with the rain and Hōnen-in not really being famous for anything specific, we had it mostly to ourselves.

We couldn't go into the main hall, but it didn't matter. The advertised moss was there, as was a lovely fish pond, a few outbuildings, a stone stupa, and a statue tucked into a corner:


Watching over the moss.

After a few minutes' wandering around, we went back down toward the park and further north, where we realized we were on the 哲学の道 (Tetsugaku no Michi, "Philosopher's Walk"), which we've walked before the last time we were in Kyoto when my parents came to visit. After a brief diversion over to Anraku-ji only to find it was closed, we walked about five minutes north to the end of the road and Ginkakuji.

Ginkakuji is my favorite temple in Kyoto, but I think a lot of that has to do with my introduction to it. The first time we went, it was the end of December close to the new year, and almost no one was there other than us. The grounds were deserted other than one man raking the sand and us.

That was not the case here. The road from the Philosopher's Walk was absolutely packed full of people and the shrine was the same. It was still beautiful, but it fell victim to the typical problem with tourism--you want places to be easily accessible but no one to be there except you. Still, when I could ignore the people around, it was lovely.


One of many small ponds on the grounds.

The name means "Silver Pavilion" to match with Kinkakuji's "Golden Pavilion," but there's no actual silver on the buildings. The story is that they planned to cover it with silver but never got around to it, but no one really knows. I don't really care much for the buildings anyway. It's the gardens that I love.

I also got this picture of the grounds and the city.


Doesn't look that modern from this viewpoint.

On the way down, we popped into the gift shop. While we were tempted by the Kitty-chan tea mugs, we eventually decided not to get them, but did go for matcha and a sweet, the real reason we had entered in the first place. The sweets were soybean flour cakes formed in the shape of the mon of Ashikaga Yoshimasa, who ordered its construction. It was good--better than the matcha I can make, but not so much better than I feel like making matcha is a waste of time for me. I just need more practice, and I can do it.

After that, we took the bus back toward Kyoto Station but got off at Gion for lunch. Unfortunately, it was already 2:30 p.m. when we arrived and most places were closed or closing, and the places that weren't were serving noodles that I didn't want. We found one compromise place that had duck udon, but when we got inside, the duck udon was scratched out, so we left. We were running out of patience when [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd found a restaurant called Izumoya, where we got a seat upstairs overlooking the Kamogawa. ¥2000 set with dashimaki, miso soup, pickles, rice, sashimi, tofu, tempura, seaweed salad, salt mackerel...it was delicious. That link had some bad reviews, but I'm really happy we went.


The dashimaki wasn't as good as [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's, though.

Next was the kanji museum, which I had seen a few days ago and wanted to go to for a while. Right after entering we saw a video about the origin of kanji in China from ideographic representation to the more stylized images in use currently, which made the point that emoji are very similar to the origin of kanji. And just outside was a display that demonstrated it the progression of kanji from ancient to modern:


Touch interactive--press a modern kanji and it would transform into the older turtle-shell-carved form in the center.

After that was a display where you could write the syllables of your name and see what kanji were used to derive the hiragana and katakana to pronounce it. While doing the katakana, two women noticed our writing and we got into a brief chat with them about how we used to teach English in Hiroshima and were from Chicago, and it turned out that one of them was an exchange student in Detroit! She said she had a lot of fun, but it was extremely cold, which, well, can't argue with that.

We couldn't read a lot of the information there and the kanji library was definitely beyond our ability, so we took a quick look into the gift shop and then left to get some anmitsu and, after that, to look at kanzashi for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's hair. After a bit of browsing, she found a black and green one and then we took the bus back to Kyoto Station, browsed around the shops there, and then headed back to the room to rest a bit before dinner.

Due to a miscommunication, we ended up not meeting up for dinner, so four people went to Chojiro again and, due to long lines, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, another friend, and I took the bus to Gion and found a hole-in-the-walk yakitori place called Torin (鳥ん). No pictures of the inside because they requested no photos, but I did take this picture of the outside:


The inside decor was rubber-chicken-themed.

There was a ¥300 table,charge and one-drink minimum order, so initially I was set to hate the place. But they won me over with the food. I ordered the set meal and got a hamburg (ハンバーグ, more like Salisbury steak than hamburger) with egg, salad, chicken skin appetizer, ice cream, and three yakitori skewers. The yakitori was excellent. Crunchy on the outside, juicy on the inside, flavorful without being overwhelming, just fantastic. The table charge was actually worth it. And with only twelve seats in the place, I can kind of see why they charge it.

We left and met up with the others, bought some conbini sake and umeshu, and headed back to [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek's Air BnB to chat. That lasted about an hour before [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and said friend were falling asleep, so the rest of us said our goodbyes and conducted a Pokéwalk back to our respective places of rest.

I evolved an イーブイ into シャワーズ, and I learned that Showers is called "Vaporeon" in English.

Steps taken: 18226
dorchadas: (Eight Million Gods)
You can tell Japan is a high-trust society with good social cohesion because the elevators hang around forever but close instantly when you press the 閉める button.

I woke up late, so after showers and breakfast again at Lotteria, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and decided to go to Sanjūsangendō again. But apparently everyone else had the same idea, because when we got to the 206 bus there were roughly a hundred people waiting in line to use it. Faced with that, we figured walking would be better, so we set out east. Fortunately, the rain that's been forecast nearly every day of our visit but that never materialized finally arrived, so it was completely overcast during the walk and thus not that hot.

Sanjūsangendō does not allow pictures inside the hall and since it's still an actively-used temple--there are spots for praying and priests inside taking prayer requests--I didn't try to sneak a picture. But I did get this image of the exterior:


With artistic tree in foreground.

Sanjūsangendō is [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's favorite temple in Kyoto, because it's the temple of 観音 (Kannon), and because it feels like an actual temple. Even though it's also a tourist space, it's quiet, it's dimly lit, the whole hall smells of incense and sounds of dimly-ringing bells, and stacked in row on row in front of you as you enter are a thousand and one statues of Kannon, five hundred on each side of a giant seated Kannon almost four meters high.

We walked the circuit of the temple, in front of the statues and then the back hallway where they held the 通し矢 (tōshiya) archery competitions. There's even a wooden beam exhibited that has dozens of arrowshafts sticking out of it, the remnants of ancient contests.

After a brief foray onto the grounds to take some pictures of the garden:


I love this gardening style.

...we went back to the hotel room to get ready for the Tenjin Matsuri in Ōsaka. That took a bit longer than I was expecting because when we got back our room was still being cleaned, but eventually we were all ready. "We" being [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture, and myself, since everyone else had already gone ahead to Ōsaka to visit the castle. We walked to the train station, got on the next Shinkansen bound for Shin-Ōsaka station, and we were off. After a tasty チキン南蛮お弁当 (chikin nanban obentō, "Boxed chicken lunch of the southern barbarians") scarfed down in ten minutes because Kyoto and Ōsaka are really close together, we arrived in Ōsaka.

I've only been to Ōsaka once before because [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd had to take her GRE here, so I went with her for moral support. I remember the Human Rights Museum, that the conbini had kimchi-ume onigiri, and that's about it, so unlike the other cities we've been to I really had no idea where to go. Fortunately, as we were looking at a map, an English-speaking train station attendant came over and asked where we wanted to go, and we got on the train with a helpfully labeled map of our destination.

I then promptly ignored it, because we had a bit of time before the parade and I wanted to go to check out 四天王寺 (shitennōji, "Temple of the Four Heavenly Kings") first, after reading that it was one of the oldest temples in Japan (built 593) and the first known temple to be built officially by the state. So we walked there, against the flood of schoolgirls leaving school that had just let out, and arrived in mid-afternoon.

Here's the gate to the inner temple:


Fūjin and Raijin, guardians of wind and storm.

I did not actually go into the inner temple, because they charged admission and also because it was heavily under construction. I thought there was some kind of ceremony taking place with pounding drums until I looked into the inner compound and saw the heavy machinery.

There were a lot of smaller buildings scattered around the grounds, and I would have liked to spend more time looking around except we were on a schedule and also construction, so we left after a bit and walked to the subway, where we hopped on and came up near 大坂天満宮 (Ōsaka Tenmangu) into giant crowds of people in yukata, festival booths, a guy handing out fans, and, of course, the parade:


This is right after they put the mikoshi down and then picked it up again.

We watched the parade long enough for a couple mikoshi and one extremely-upset horse to pass by, and then the other group told us that they had found a place by the river to watch the later boat procession, so we left and worked our way through the crowd, across the parade route, over the bridge across the water, and over to the stone steps where the others were sitting. Then the boats came out on the water.


One of about thirty boats.

The boats were mostly dragged by tugboats, but a few of them, like the foreground of that picture, were muscle-powered, prompting feats of oarsmanship and [livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat to say:
"I've never seen a boat do doughnuts before."
We watched the boats for about an hour and a half while the boat with the shamisen player, the boat with the bunraku performers, the boat with the dancers, and the various boats with oars doing doughnuts passed by. We were waiting for the fireworks to start, and they did start...further up the river and low enough that they were behind some buildings and we basically couldn't see anything at all other than some flashes on the clouds. After ten minutes of fruitlessly hoping they would move closer, we decided to give up and head home.

[livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat and [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega split off while the rest of us wandered around looking for takoyaki. We eventually found some, as well as kara-age, pineapple on a stick, and chocolate-covered pineapple on a stick, and fortified with those we took the subway to Ōsaka Station, the train to Shin-Ōsaka station, and the Shinkansen to Kyoto. Hurray for the JR Pass.

Once we got back, we headed back to the hotel so [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture could change out of their yukatas, and then there was only one thing left to do:


I don't know why they have Nightwish, but I won't complain that they do.

One hour turned into two, then into three, as is the way with karaoke. Finally, we ended with the traditional "Bohemian Rhapsody," all said our good nights, and went back to our separate places of rest.

Steps taken: 19430
dorchadas: (Zombies together!)
A couple days ago, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I took a bit of time to head down to Iwakuni for the Kintaikyou Matsuri. For those who don't know, 錦帯橋 is a famous bridge that's built in a series of arches over the river, and every spring, Iwakuni has as festival there that, in addition to the standard things you find at Japanese festivals, reenacts the processional of a daimyō returning home. That part was pretty neat, though we didn't stay very long to see much because it was extremely sunny out and neither of us had brought sunscreen.

There were a couple things of interest, though, other than pretty pictures of the bridge. The first was that they had set up kind of a flea market. Now, pretty much every Japanese festival has bunches of 屋台 (yatai, "[food] carts") all over the place, and usually they all look the same from festival to festival (which makes me wonder if there's some standard company that supplies them), but I've never seen much else for sale. This had all kinds of things--pottery, jewelry, clothing, even things like plants and farm tools. If we weren't leaving in a few months and if I didn't think most generic decorations not that great (I really like the spartan nature of traditional Japanese home), we might have bought something. But, we are and I do, so we didn't.

The second thing was that when we were walking through the park named after the town's founder, we heard a band playing a Sousa march. Since Iwakuni has an American military base, both [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I had the same thought at the same time, but we were wrong. It was a local high school's brass band.
dorchadas: (desu)
Yep, you read that right. It's not willingly, though. Two days ago, my laptop sudden began exhibiting extremely alarming behavior (read: freezing solid 3-5 minutes after starting up). Fortunately, I'd already backed up most of my important stuff (except my Morrowind installation with mods GRRRRRR), so if they have to replace it completely it's no big loss except for my saved games. Still...ugh.

We went to two festivals this week. The first was the Onomichi Port Festival, where [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd got to dress up in a kimono. We went for a tour of the temples in the city after that, though we couldn't stay too long since we needed to return the kimono. Yesterday, we went to Sandankyou, a small town in the mountains, for their spring festival. While we arrived late (because I overslept) we still managed to see the end of a performance of Yamata no Orochi and stand in the crowd for the mochi-catching.

Afterwards, we went on a walk to find the waterfall (the aforementioned Sandankyou, which is something like "three-stepped falls." Unfortunately, we took a wrong turn and went completely the opposite way. It was quite pretty, and there were a number of smaller waterfalls along the way, though, so it wasn't wasted time. It was a bit odd how there was a 1.5-meter-wide path along the edge of the river (4 meters or so below us, with rocks all around it) and no handrails anywhere. Safety first?

Parents' visit

2009-Aug-05, Wednesday 21:18
dorchadas: (Warcraft Burning Moonkin)
So, last week I missed basically everything that happened on the internets because my parents were in town. If you don't remember my Kyōto entry, then I suggest you reference it again because we went all the same places. :-p The only difference was that this time, it was hot and humid instead of cold, and we walked everywhere.

After Kyōto, we made a brief stop in Himeji to see Himeji-jō, which was tragically cut short when my mother twisted her ankle and fainted (probably from a combination of shock, the heat and dehydration. One roll for breakfast and ice cream for lunch does not constitute a balanced diet no matter how healthy your dinner is, Mom!). I ended up running up 6 or 7 flights of stairs to get a guard and explain the situation, and as a minor benefit I will never forget the word for "to faint, collapse" now. She was okay--it was only twisted, not sprained or broken--but we cut our visit short and headed home to get some rest [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I are probably going to take a day trip and go back in September when we have a 5-day weekend. It's only 1.5 hours or so by shinkansen from Hiroshima, so that's easily doable in a day (if expensive).

The day after that we rested to give my mother's ankle time to heal, and on Friday we went to Hirata-san's (our Japanese-tutor) house for lunch. Before lunch, her husband, who is a Buddhist priest, showed us around the temple and demonstrated a sutra for us, which was really neat. He has a good chanting voice--it sounded a bit like throat-singing, if you've ever heard that. The meal was quite good, there was much exchanging of omiyage, and then we went off to Miyajima, where we spent the night in a ryokan. Not a small one--those are all super expensive, and would have been booked anyway--but it was still neat. The food was delicious, and it was modernized enough to have air conditioning, which made sleeping on a futon not so bad.

The next day we looked around Miyajima (note that despite the wikipedia article title, all the signs to get there say "Miyajima," even in Japanese). We didn't actually go to the shrine, partially because people had shrine fatigue after Kyōto , but we did climb Mt. Misen. My father and I did it the hard way, and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and my mother took the ropeway up. I didn't feel especially holy afterwards, though. 95% humidity meant I felt more just hot and sticky. After riding down the mountain the easy way, we looked around town for a bit (and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I had a delicious lunch of anago, the local specialty), we went back to Chiyoda.

Then on Sunday, they looked around Hiroshima, and on Monday they headed home. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I were going to stay in the city afterwards, but we were incredibly tired so we just went home.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the bombing, and I think I'm going to the ceremony. There's going to be statements by hibakusha with accompanying English translation, which will be really neat to hear. The actual remembrance is too early for me (and the candles on the river are probably too late), but I can go for the statements at least.
dorchadas: (Enter the Samurai)
All right. Now that I'm no longer sick, I can actually write about our Kyōto trip!

We were going to leave last Friday after [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd got back from work, but when we arrived in Hiroshima bus center she noticed that her purse was missing. It turned out that she had left it back in Chiyoda, where one of the station attendants had picked it up, checked the identification, noticed it was all in English and called the school. We went back to get it, and by that point, it was too late to take the train to we waited for the next day. This later turned out to have been very good, since our original plan would have gotten us into Kyōto hours after check-in time at the youth hostel closed.

On Saturday, we woke up early, took the bus into Hiroshima and then went to the train station. Once there, we learned what all the fuss about shinkansen was about. Unlike an airport, there was no waiting in security lines, no sitting around, no weather delays, no tin-can feel, nothing. We went up to the counter, asked for tickets to Kyōto, and the agent asked us if we wanted the train that left in 10 minutes or in 20. Around 2 hours later, we were in Kyōto, right around the time to check into the youth hostel. The guy behind the counter was kind enough to not charge us full price for the first day because [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd had called in and told them why we were late. We didn't do much the first day...just met up with [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's friends and went out to find a place to eat, mostly. The hostel was in Gion, but most of Gion is really touristy now, so finding a restaurant open late wasn't too hard. It's a bit of a disconnect to hear Indian waiters welcoming you in Japanese...but we are in Japan, after all.

Pretty much all of our sight-seeing time was taken up by going to temples. The first day, we went to Kōdai-ji, which was probably my favorite place, and Kiyomizu-dera. Kōdai-ji was still obviously a working temple--while we were there, the call to prayer bell was rung and we could hear chanting coming from somewhere. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd also got a good-luck charm there blessed by a monk (which we later learned was specifically for good luck in travels). Kiyomizu-dera is one of the places that people usually go to when going to Kyōto, but it was still neat. One of the big draws of Kiyomizu-dera is the sacred spring there. It's the original reason the temple was founded, and it's supposed to grant good health to people to drink from it, though considering [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I both got sick after we got back from Kyōto it clearly didn't work for us. :-p The temple also has two rocks around 10m apart--if you can walk between them with your eyes closed, you will find your true love. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd did it and got excited congratulations from some Singaporean tourists, though they were less excited when they learned she was already married. :-p We saw a maiko (an apprentice geisha) on the way back, and although she had a very worried expression when we asked to take her picture, she did stop and let us, which was nice of her.

We were going to go to the zoo after this, but it was closed for New Years, so we walked down a bit farther down the street and went to Murin-an, the old villa of a Diet member from the turn of the century. The garden was really pretty, but our guidebook mentioned that they would serve you tea for an additional fee, and we couldn't find any sign that told us where it was. After that, we split up with Rachel's friends--they were tired, so they went back to the hostel and we went on to Nanzen-ji. The party we really wanted to go to (Nanzen-in) was closed for New Year's, but we were able to see the aqueduct. It was all red-brick and neat looking. We went up top and followed it for a while, but it just led to a water treatment plant. The rest of the day was mostly window-shopping in the overpriced touristy areas of Gion and looking for food.

The second day, we went to Kinkaku-ji and Ginkaku-ji (respectively, the Gold Pavilion and the Silver Pavilion). We only went to Ginkaku-ji because we were confused, but I actually liked it better than Kinkaku-ji. Kinkaku-ji (so named because the top two floors are covered with beaten gold) was incredibly touristy. There was one path lined with ropes that people took, it was crowded, there were no monks anywhere, etc. Ginkaku-ji had no gold (or silver--they were going to put silver foil on it but never actually got around to it), but it did have a neat display of all the mosses you could find growing on the temple grounds. Dinner was at a place called Senmonten, which only makes gyoza and pickles, but they were by far the best gyoza and pickles I have ever had in my life.

The next day we basically just woke up and went home, but we also learned the bad side of shinkansen travel. On the way there, we had gotten reserved seats, which were a bit more expensive but meant we had a number, assigned seat, etc. On the way back, we got unreserved seats. What this meant is that the car was packed (standing room only, the aisle was full so we stood in the entryway) and that the conductor pushed people in with a pole to back us all in before the train left. That was quite a bit more uncomfortable, but at least now we know to request reserved seats in the future!

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