Japan - Kyoto Part I & Nara

On my day 2 in Japan, I woke up feeling not so bad. Did have to let out some mucus out and it was still the brownish yellowish kind with a tinge of blood. Was slightly worried, but I had to get on with the day. For this day, I decided to take a day tour which would explore Kyoto and Nara. Generally I think taking a day tour in a city which you use as your base is not beneficial. Most often than not you can explore the city on your own. Of course if you're unsure about the transportation and what with the language barrier and you just don't want to deal with the hassle, you can do so, like I did in Istanbul. Also there are cases where the city tour can help you jump through hoops and queue. For example a half a day or day tour in Milan will be so worth it because most of it will take you to see The Last Supper and if you try to book the entry yourself, it's almost impossible to get. It's always full and even if a slot exists, the timing may not be that convenient. So anyway, I chose this day tour because I wanted to visit Nara and it's a different city altogether. So it would be great to not have to bother about transportation. It's like even if going from Kyoto to Nara is easy enough, arriving in Nara and getting to the places where I want to go may not be that straightforward. So I just didn't want to deal with the trouble. To be honest, I didn't know much about Japan before getting there. Like I didn't know that there are friendly deers roaming around in Nara. Casryn was telling me about that when she asked me if I was going there. I found out about it when I was reading about the tour and also about the fact that we're going to see a giant Buddha, the biggest one in Japan.

So anyways, the tour started late at 9 am. I only had to be at the meeting place at around 8.45 am. That's good because I didn't have to rush in the morning. I went out and had breakfast at Mister Donut in Kyoto Station. The Mister Donut in Kyoto station is rather strange. It doesn't sell drink and I was pointed to the cafe next door when I asked for tea. So I got one donut from them and hot tea from the cafe next door. I love Mister Donut but I think I wouldn't ever find a donut shop that I don't love. After that I headed to the hotel where the meeting place is. I didn't print out the map for it, I don't know why I have a tendency to not do important thing like this. I just kinda remember the location and direction of it in relation to my hotel. So I started to walk, walked out of the station, was rather confused that it's not obvious that the hotel was there. Tried to ask a japanese lady in suit, thinking she dressed so nicely so she must have some English skill. She didn't and didn't really help me. So I kept on walking in the direction which I think was correct and yay I found it. So that wasn't so bad. Found the tour counter and then it's a short wait before we were told to get into the bus. The Japanese are so organized that they actually assigned seat number for each people! Lucky for me, noone sat next to me.

The guide was this plump short Japanese grandmother, named Mariko. She's rather cute. First stop was Nijō Castle. Mariko having to do her job, gave a lot of information, which obviously I couldn't retain. I think it's a Shogun residence. One thing that I remember from what Mariko said, also the thing she said that if we should forget everything else, we should remember this analogy about the relationship between the emperor and the shogun. The emperor is like the husband in a family and the shogun is the wife. When the emperor wants to make important decision on something, he has to consult the shogun and often time just like in a marriage the wife (shogun) will have a bigger say on whether certain things are to be carried out or not :D Nijo Castle itself is pretty interesting. You have to take off your shoes to explore and it and no photos are allowed :( So I have no pictures from inside it. There's basically a route that you have to follow to explore it and it made it difficult for me to follow how one building is connected to the other and what's the whole layout looks like. There are meanings in almost everything. Meanings in the paintings on the walls for example. Then there's a section with a floor which they call the nightingale floor. Basically it's designed as such that if you walk on it, there will be sound coming out it, supposedly like the sound of nightingales. After hearing the collective sound from so many people walking on it, I think they sounded like mice instead. Although as we went along, I did think it's like a combination between the sound of mice and birds. The purpose of it is of course to know when there's someone coming. So it's all around the important area of the castle.

After we're done and was given some time to explore the surrounding, I decided to greet the Indonesian group who were sitting in front of me in the bus. Maybe because I've been away from Indonesia from some time, I may have forgotten certain norms in addressing people since I don't get to address people in Indonesian here that often. I started addressing the ladies of the group as "tante", which means "aunt", which is perhaps a bad way to address them since it made them feel so old and hello I'm not that young myself. The proper way of addressing them is to call them "kakak", I guess, which is an Indonesian word to address anyone slightly older than you be it a woman or a man. However, since I started with "tante", I just continued on. In this trip, I just started greeting every Indonesians I can find :P I found myself gravitating towards the Indonesian so much and not so to the Singaporeans :P I guess it's very telling about where my heart lies and where I feel more comfortable in :) Anyways, on a weekday, this tour would visit Kyoto Imperial Palace too, but since I was there on a Sunday, we went to Kitano Tenmangu Shrine instead. It's quite a pity that my schedule didn't allow me to visit the imperial palace in Kyoto as well as in Tokyo. I read that it's quite a hassle to visit them. You have to join a tour and I think if you choose to join the imperial palace tour group, you have to register with your passport. Also the visit doesn't mean you get to go inside the building, it's most probably just walking on the ground around the building and getting official explanation on it. The east garden in Tokyo imperial palace is free though and you can roam about it freely so that seems interesting, but yeah I couldn't fit in my schedule when I was there.

The compound of Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is pretty big. There are many little houses with different Gods, to whom people can pray to depending on their wishes or request. One interesting part was this section where people who wants to have their car blessed, usually new car owners, can park their car and the Shinto priests can do the blessing ceremony. Mariko said the blessing will cover the car for 1 year, so the next year they should come back :D I asked Mariko what's the difference between the wooden tablet (which now I found out is called ema after I googled it) and the papers being tied all over. I thought the papers were wishes as well. Mariko explained that ema does contain wishes, the papers though are fortune papers. Visitors can randomly get a fortune paper after donating some money. If what's written is good luck, they can bring it home. If it's bad, they can tie it at the shrine and the priest will burn them (I suppose periodically) so that the Gods will take care of this bad luck. Glad to be learning something there. This shrine has a lot of plum trees all around it. I read that during flowering season, it's very pretty. When I was there, there were just a lot of little green plums. Also glad that I finally found out what fruits they were.

After which, we went to Kinkaku-ji which I can only described as delightfully golden. There were many tourists taking its pictures from across the pond. It is very beautiful and on a sunny day it's very shiny. It emanated golden ray all around :D I love it a lot. It's one of those things that made you gasped and made you feel warm and fuzzy because you see something wonderful. It's also telling how I really had little knowledge of Japan, since I've never heard about this place before I visited it. I basically just went straight away to take pictures and didn't listen to Mariko when she was gathering people and explaining about the temple. So now, I looked for Wikipedia to enlighten me :P

This beauty ended the Kyoto part of the tour and next was lunch. Lunch wasn't great :( There were free flow of ice cream though. I did take them, but with me being in recovery mode, I was trying to avoid all things cold. I sat with the Indonesian group and found out that one of them is actually Singaporean. Then I got very curious. She's been in Singapore only for 6 years and she managed to change her citizenship. How that did it happen? Did she get permanent residency straight away when she arrived? Or is it actually possible to change your citizenship even if you haven't completed a 5-year permanent residency? I know the answer is actually possible, since Jet Li can be a Singaporean even though it's questionable how long he actually spends in this country. I'm not a Singaporean but I do share the sentiment of many Singaporeans that there are too many foreigners here and I can see where they are coming from when they're annoyed that many foreigners can get citizenship "rather easily", though perhaps it's not that easy actually. It's just as pure blood Singaporeans, many do feel that there's something culturally different about being a Singaporean and just because foreigners can change their status, they're not necessarily one of them. The fear is perhaps that when there are more of these new citizens keeping their own culture, the culture of Singapore will actually be disappearing. The government will say that's what you get when you don't want to make babies. I did read an article that says something along the line that it's useless to argue about the need of foreigners becoming citizens and the changing of Singapore culture, since it's something unstoppable. Singapore will always need immigrants and with them the changes in culture and society will be something which is to be expected and valued instead. Alright then :D Coming from the other side, I get why people would like to be Singaporean. Coming from Indonesia, I think for every non-muslim Indonesians, citing discrimination and muslim extremists is a good enough answer. I personally like to think that I'll stay through thick and thin with the country that God chose for me. There's loyalty for me. Does it mean that people who change their citizenship are not loyal? I usually think it's unfortunate that they do it when their original country does not cause them to be in dire harm, but who are we to judge. This lady though is not that very good of a new citizen. When I said that after all these years, I still do not want to change citizenship, she said changing citizenship to Singaporean is a stepping stone. So yeah, not much loyalty. I guess if you can do it once, you may be able to do it again. I feel rather disappointed hearing her. I feel if you have chosen this path, you should be committed damn it. Anyways, I digressed pretty far off. After lunch, I parted ways with them because they were continuing with the second half of Kyoto tour and I was to start on my Nara part. I had to leave first so I said goodbye, got on the bus and we started picking some other tourists.

Now I got a bulky American guy sitting next to me :( Didn't enjoy having to sit with someone, but at least I got window seat. The guide was still Mariko, yay! I think it's a more than 1 hour drive to Nara from Kyoto. We had to go through some express way and I remembered her saying that the bus can only go 60 kmh max and I thought that was rather slow. She was explaining things throughout the journey, but I actually drifted in and out and slept a bit. Seriously, this is so not me. I guess I really didn't have much energy because of the flu. First stop was Todaiji Temple where the giant Buddha is. There were many tourists and the Buddha is inside the temple. There were some other statues of what I believe are the guardians around the main Buddha statue. It is very very big. There's one pillar inside the temple with a hole underneath it. It is said that the hole is as big as the Buddha statue's nostril and if you are below 180 cm and 80 kg, you can join the queue to see if you can go pass it and if you can pass it, you'll be very blessed. There was a queue for it. Children can crawl in and out easily. I think I can. I wonder if anyone ever got stuck :D We were given some free time on our own. I felt very blessed to be given the chance to visit this temple and so I decided to pray and put the prayer joss stick at the bowl which strangely is located some distance away from the temple. Also strange, so far all the joss stick I found in Japan are just joss without the stick. So they're pretty short and it made it rather hard to stick it in the bowl if the bowl is rather full and now that I think of it, wouldn't this make the joss to not be able to burn in its entirety? Weird. But also in Japan, the joss comes in many different colours, like purple, green, orange, yellow, pink! Anyway I could only say a little prayer in the direction of the Buddha because there were many people.

After that, we went to Kasuga Grand Shrine. The compound is also very big and because in the area there are a lot of old trees and there are deers (they were among the first things we saw there) and there are many stone lanterns, I was feeling a bit of Bali in here. Like in one of those temples in Bali where the monkeys roam free. Different country, different animal, different things, and yet my brain was making this connection. The deers were definitely not shy. They were looking at us and didn't run away. Mariko said since it's Sunday, there had been many tourists in the area and most probably the deers were already well fed and that's why we're not seeing many of them. We saw 2 when we came and of course everyone including me was approaching them and started taking pictures :P Walking around the areas seeing the lanterns was very nice because it's outside with the nature and the weather was agreeable. I wonder if there's a period where the lanterns are actually filled with candles and people can explore the shrine at night. It must be so cool as well.

Before we left, 2 of the tourists in my group, including the American guy sitting next to me in the bus, were feeding the deers with biscuits which I wonder if a special deer biscuit or human can eat it as well. There were 2 deers and they were eating calmly. This one was actually blind in 1 eye I think because its left eye was rather white. Poor little thing. This is the only picture I had of him which doesn't make him looks so scary

Before we ended the day, we visited a souvenir shop. I think I got something from there. Then it's the drive back to Kyoto. I was dropped at my hotel, yay! Got dinner and since I was staying at Kyoto Tower Hotel, I got a free pass to go up the tower. Since it's free, I might as well use it though for real I wasn't interested at all. Kyoto Tower is really not something beautiful and I'm just not interested anymore in going high up to see a view of a city, though I will still be interested to go up in Monas to see the view of Jakarta. I thought since the tower is not actually that beautiful, there wouldn't be many people going for it. Boy was I wrong. There was a long queue and I ended up waiting 20 minutes or so. If not for the free ticket, I wouldn't waste 20 minutes of my life for it. I also didn't feel particularly amazed seeing the view, maybe because I couldn't identify anything. I guess it would be interesting to see the view during Kyoto bond fire festival since there will be bond fire lighted in the form of a Japanese character in the surrounding mountains. I actually saw the character during the day when one of the mountain was visible. In this picture, you can see a pagoda on the right. I don't know which temple or shrine it belongs to.

To see more pictures from the Nara trip, you can go here and I'll try to write more about the trip soon. Writing this and looking back at the pictures, I realized how I really had a good day that day and how fortunate I felt seeing many wonderful things. Thank you God :)

:) eKa @ 10:44:00 PM •

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