Japan - Kyoto Part II

I forget to add this bit of unfortunate thing that befell me. On my first evening in Japan, as I sat down and wrote, I realized that I lost my return Narita Express ticket. Narita Express (N'EX) is an express train that would take you from Narita to Tokyo. It would stop at some of the big stations like Tokyo, Shinjuku, and Shinagawa. When I arrived, I got the package of 2 returns N'EX tickets and a suica card which can be used on the subway / metro of Tokyo and on trains line operated by JR (Japan Railway) in Tokyo, Kyoto, Sapporo and perhaps many other cities. Coming on to Kyoto, my first ride was the Narita Express from Narita to Shinagawa. I got the return ticket because my leg 2 is in Sapporo and I had to go from Kyoto to Shinagawa and then take the Narita Express to Narita for my flight. So I looked and looked among my papers and I just couldn't find the ticket. I'm still not sure what happened. My guess was, since the ticket was important, I put it inside my passport since it's also as important. I think it must have fallen when I handed my passport at the hotel when I checked in. So the morning after, the day of the Kyoto - Nara trip, I asked the receptionist about it. I kinda confused one of the girls. She had difficulty understanding me and asked me to speak slowly. Her english wasn't good and her other colleague with slightly better english tried to help us. She then told me that they would call me when they find that small ticket. I had high hope, but up until I left, there wasn't any news :( I was feeling very very bad because it felt like failure for me. How could I be so careless :( Of course I texted mom and she said it's okay. Of course it's okay, it's not a major thing, the new ticket cost below S$40, even in Indonesian rupiah the lost is not that bad. Still, I am me, when bad things happened to me, I couldn't just give it 10 minutes or so to grieve. It takes me a long long time to get over it.

However I was in Japan. Alone. With lotsa plan. So I did have to shut down those thoughts of wondering where I did wrong and I should just move on. Day 3 in Japan, Monday, was kinda my last day in Kyoto because the next day I would be moving on to Sapporo. The plan was to start early, visit Fushimi Inari which is famous for the many torii, then I would go back to Kyoto station, find the bicycle rental shop and cycle my way to the things on my list. That was very ambitious. Before coming to Kyoto, I imagined I would toughen myself up and just do it. Arriving in Kyoto, I was quite intimidated with the fact that Kyoto is actually pretty big and it's pretty much a modern city with big streets and many cars. However, that day I thought that I couldn't chicken out, I should do what I said I would do. So the morning started, not as early as I told myself to, but I was on a holiday. I was sick when I came, so I needed the rest, and so I wasn't rushing at all. Had breakfast at Mister Donut again. 2 donuts this time around, I guess appetite was coming back. Then I tried to find the train platform. I knew which train to take but somehow standing there at the station looking at the train direction, I couldn't really quite get it. The impatient me straight away just asked the nearby staff. I asked which train to go to Fushimi Inari which of course is famous that everyone would know where it is. For the record though, Fushimi Inari-Taisha is the name of the shrine. Inari is the name of the area and so the train station is called Inari. The staff told me the platform number and the direction for it. When I reached the platform, I confirmed it again with the staff there. It was a really short ride to Inari, just a few stations away, and exiting the station, the shrine is just across the street. So it was truly painless reaching the shrine :) The shrine has a very big compound and everything is painted orange. Going towards the back, you could easily find the double torii path. It's that place where so many pictures have been taken in. However, with the so many tourists, it's rather impossible to take pictures without anyone in it. I tried to wait it out, but it didn't happen. People were passing by. When I thought no more people would be going in, there would be some people going back. So yeah, I don't have any picture of the double path :( In fact, I actually do not have many pictures of the torii.

The reason why I didn't have many pictures of the torii was because I was thinking that I would just explore the area first and come back later and then use the time to take more pictures. That didn't happen because as I started going through the path, I just kinda didn't stop. The torii are leading up the mountain. I don't mind if it's a slope going up but when it comes to the staircases, it was tough. Passing through a torii gate means that you are being purified. Now I am one of those people who by reflex would just curse and say things like shit and fuck. It's bad, I should be controlling myself, I know. Along with those words, I also often by reflex say, "Holy Jesus!". So as I hiked my way up the mountain under the many torii, I was going "Holy Jesus, please help me". I think it's quite silly. It's just I'm a real couch potato. I will take the bus, even though my destination is just 1 bus stop away or a 10-15 minutes walk. So you know, for someone who never exercises, hiking up a mountain is not easy for me. I am actually surprised that I had some stamina and wasn't really in bad shape (by my standard) during the hike.

Why did I go on then? I don't know. I didn't even know what I wanted to reach. I didn't know what the goal was. The path never stops and I just kept on walking. Never once did I think if I would have the energy to make it down. Sometime in my hike when there weren't many tourists anymore, there was this Japanese older man who in Singapore we would address as uncle. I think he may do this often, as a form of exercise. So at some point, there would be just me and him. We didn't talk at all or even greeted each other, but for some reason, I saw him as that person who's there for me and who's doing this with me. It's like as long as he's walking, I could make it too. Sometime he would pass me and at other times I would pass him, but we would always kinda near each other. Then we reached level 6 and I just straight away sat down at the bench. At that point, I was thinking I had done it long enough that I should most probably go back. There's a map and after looking at all the clues, I found out that I was at level 6 and the top was around 15 minutes away! Did I go to the top? I didn't. I thought it didn't matter if I reached the top or not. 15 minutes is perhaps the time it will take if you're all fresh, but at my state, my heart was beating faster and by the time I sat at the bench, I was trying to get my breathing into normal speed. Also came was a dad with his boys. He also sat down and the boys wanted to keep going it seemed that the dad had to say over and over to wait :P That's what I think he said in Japanese :P So I decided not to go to the top and to go back. The uncle also didn't continue to the top, he decided to go the other way which by looking at it seemed like the way down. Now, a smart person would go back the way she came, however I decided to take the other way down which the uncle also took. I have no explanation why I did this. Perhaps because the uncle took that path. Perhaps because of the subliminal desire of wanting to keep on exploring different things. If the path is going down, I would eventually reach the base right? Right?!? I should have turned back when I was walking a path without any torii, when the path was getting really narrow, when there wasn't any human being, when I was wondering if I did the right thing. I should have. I didn't. Can't explain why. Maybe again it's because the path hasn't ended, so I kept on walking and walking. It was all green with plants, sometime there's a little stream. I thought maybe a bear would come out of the green, but then I thought bears don't live in this kinda place. I thought maybe I'll see a fox, which would be awesome since there are many fox statues in Fushimi Inari. Of course I also understood the likelihood of it was non-existent. The thought that never came was that a really bad person would do really bad things to me. Maybe I should be more cautious, but somehow when I travel, I never think that really really bad things can happen to me.

As I walked, thinking I may have made a big mistake, I did think of how strange that moment also was. I couldn't remember much about the view now which is kinda sad because I thought I would remember that moment of me walking alone, in a middle of a forest (if I can so) without anyone at all (the uncle disappeared). It's like a real moment of solitude that God put me in and truth be told I couldn't understand why he did that to me. If there's a reason for anything, I'm not sure what the goal of this was. It wasn't bad actually but I just asked myself over and over why I was doing this. Maybe whatever lesson I had to learn with the walk, I haven't learned it at all. Maybe when I remembered that I should just enjoy that moment, rather than trying to understand why I was doing it or was put to do it, I took this picture of this pretty orchid like flower.

At some point, I finally saw the uncle again. He was on the phone and he smiled as he saw me passing by. Then towards the end, I also passed this area where there were a lot of bamboo trees. Unlike the ones in Arashiyama, these ones weren't that green. They were more light green and yellowish and then I finally emerged into a ... residential area! Oh my God, that's all I could say. I wasn't at the base of the shrine? What's with this residential area with houses? They were looking so empty though which was weird for me. Yes it was Monday, but it was also still a public holiday, so I wondered where the people were. The streets between houses are pretty wide which is nice because in my home in Jakarta, the street gets pretty narrow now. The houses are not that big, but they look cute and when they have gardens, they looked so well maintained and pretty much always in japanese style with the pine trees. So I didn't know where I was, didn't have a sense of direction. For some reason I just thought I was kinda too east of Fushimi Inari. That is weird to say since I didn't even know where north was. Anyway I just thought I needed to get to the main road while walking to my left. It was a long walk without any sign of getting it right. Here I actually got really frustrated. It's like all the walk I did earlier kinda evaporate into this part of frustrating black hole. Somehow I got myself into a temple or a big shrine. I didn't know what its name was and I was too tired to take picture or to find out more about the place. I did read an information panel about the place, it seemed the place is important. I just remember that the shrine or temple or whatever it was, was black in colours. The pillars of the buildings and the roof was all black. It was a total change from the orange Fushimi Inari. I found some sort of an information or ticket counter and asked for direction to the Inari station. The lady at the counter didn't really speak english. Then came 2 Japanese tourists who were rather old. The lady maybe could understand english a bit and she spoke to the lady at the counter and they understood where I wanted to go. As usual, people started talking to me in Japanese. I don't get it. In the end, they managed to get 1 word out, which was walk and then a hand gesture pointing to the general direction. I said thank you and started walking again. I was kinda at the main road of some sort, I guess, I didn't remember any bus going through. It was a long walk and I started to wonder if I was in the correct way. So after some long walk, I asked a girl who happened to understand english and I think she replied in english too that I had to keep on walking straight. I was glad that I received a confirmation that I was in the right track. So I walked and walked and yay I found Fushimi Inari again.

I think it took me around 3 hours from when I started hiking from Fushimi Inari into when I reached back there. The hiking down and the lost part may take close to 2 hours, it felt really really long. Since I was thankful that I found my way back, I finally decided that I wanted to pray at the shrine to say thank you. I found out from Mariko the day before that Shinto is more like believing there's spirit in everything and in praying to those spirits for gratitude and protection. Knowing that, I was like, well that's cool, I mean my family pretty much follow the same principle, so there shouldn't be a problem in me praying in a shrine. I still however wasn't sure if I should because I didn't want to do it wrong and be seen as disrespectful. However since I was (am) truly truly thankful that I made it back, I really really want to pray. So I watched some people until I was sure I got the whole steps. I did forget about the whole water purification part so I didn't do that. I'm sorry. The shrine in Fushimi Inari is actually kinda cool because they have these large bells that you try your best to ring as loud as you can before you start praying. I didn't remember seeing bells in any other shrine I visited. So I put some coins into the box, rang the bell, clapped twice, prayed, and clapped again, and bowed - something like that. I really felt thankful for the chance of visiting the temple as well as getting through that challenging situation safe and sound.

After this, I went back to Kyoto station. It was already like 12. I was tired and hungry and so my first stop was getting a hearty lunch. I settled for a tonkatsu set and boy how that day's experience made tonkatsu my Japanese comfort food. I ate it each in Sapporo and Tokyo too. The set I chose usually came with 2 prawns tempura, 2 smaller pork cutlets filled with something, chawanmushi, miso soup with tiny clams in it, rice, lotsa shredded cabbages, and a small teapot of Japanese tea. This first tonkatsu set I had was the best one I had. The small pork cutlets each came with cheese and asparagus filling. Eating cheese with rice is weird for me (I don't enjoy arancini), but I had burnt a lot of calories that morning, so that meal was amazing for me either way. Lunch done and I had to figure out what's next. Only half a day left and I was already pretty tired by the morning activity, so I decided to scrap the bicycle plan thing. It did seem like I got an easy way out to cover me getting chicken out trying to cycle my way in Kyoto, but hey, taking the sightseeing bus would totally help me a lot in getting to places. So I went to the visitor center, got Kyoto Sightseeing Card for 1200 yen which allowed me unlimited bus and subway rides for a day. The buses which go to the touristic areas are clearly marked with signs in english and staffs who understand english a bit. I didn't really read much about the must see things in Kyoto. I had bigger plan for the things to see, but I had to simplify things and decided to settle on Sanjusangendo, Heian Shrine, Ginkakuji, Kiyomizudera. I got on the bus, not sure about how to use the card. Went straight to the bus driver to ask if I had to insert my card now. The bus driver didn't really speak english. A older japanese lady was sitting at the front and tried to help me, but she thought I was asking if I was in the correct bus so she asked where I was going. She didn't speak english well but I had a feeling she wanted to practice or tried to be helpful. Anyway we confirmed I was on the right bus and I should just insert the card when I was going down. She asked me where I'm from and I asked her if she lives there (in Kyoto). She said she's from Osaka. I think she was travelling with her husband who just watched her talk. Her being so nice made me feel so good :P The bus has announcements to tell passengers what the next stop is, both in Japanese, English, and I think also Chinese (can't really remember it). So I knew when I had to get down, but the lady was also reminding me when my stop came.

I didn't know much about Sanjusangendo so I didn't know what to expect. One must take off their shoes entering it and there was sign for people to be observant and be quiet in the temple. When I entered and realized what this temple is, I was just in awe. It's basically a long wide hall and inside it, there are many statues of the thousand-arms Kannon and they took my breath away. I gasped. I was in awe. I was perhaps in a state of disbelief. It was unbelievable. You see rows and rows of them fill that long hall. Each of them perhaps one of its own kinds, but I couldn't be sure. It is interesting to note that the gold colours made you think that perhaps they are made of metals or something like that, but they're actually made of wood. In fact, I am often in awe that many statues in Japan are actually made of wood. Then I remember that Indonesia also has good carving skills, like the artists in Bali. I digress. Anyway there are also statues of the guardian deities at the front, like the God of thunder, wind, etc. Then as you go along the hall, right in the middle is a bigger, not in gold, statue of Kannon (Goddess of mercy). Then I realized that the other smaller but also big (because they're human size actually) statues are there to accompany this main statue. There's an altar there for people to pray and so I prayed. To say I shed some tears was an understatement. I think I actually cried. The tears were falling pretty quickly. I realized I may alarm the other tourists or the people who work there, so I had to just put the joss stick (again the joss without the stick) and kinda moved away to blow my nose and wiped the tears and yet they're still coming. I just got so emotional. I felt overwhelmed seeing such sights, felt touched and blessed that I was there, and felt like all my prayers to ask for things is pale in comparison to asking to be an actual good person and to be forgiven of all my sins. Perhaps it's the effect of religious places that they make you want to be all good and yet after you get out, you kinda forget all about being a good person, but at that time it was really what I felt. I took me some time to stop the tears. They just kept coming. I wasn't sure why I was that emotional. It was really an amazing place. Once you complete the hall, you go round the other side and there are explanation about the temple. It should be really interesting, but I didn't read much of the information. Since one cannot take pictures inside the hall, I got myself a collection of postcards from the shop. This is not a very good picture of how long or wide the hall is.

Outside there's a pretty nice garden with a pond. Just like anywhere else in Japan, there's also a small Shinto section in the same compound as this Buddhist temple. There are little torii with little houses for worship around the garden. After this temple, next on the bus route is Kiyomizudera, but since it closes later than the rest of the temples, I thought I would do this last. It was a really wrong decision on my part, sigh :( More on that later. Next for me was Heian Shrine. The compound of this shrine is so big and it's filled with white gravels. They make the whole compound so bright. The shrines are all orange. Those are not sakura trees by the way in the picture. Those are the fortune papers in light pink being tied into branches. When I first saw them from afar, I thought they were actual flowering trees.

I read that the garden is beautiful, so I decided to go to the garden. In the map given to me in the visitor center, I read there's a discount to enter the garden. I thought I just need to show my sightseeing card, but apparently I had to give the coupon from the map. The girl at the counter didn't really help me well in this, but I got it to her anyway. Entering the garden, I had the impression it wasn't so big, but it turned out it's really big. Like many other Japanese gardens, there are ponds. There's one with stepping stones which you can take to cross. I didn't fall, thank God :D In the season I was there, all are mostly green, with not many colours of the flowers. There are the wisteria which are in season. By the way, when I heard the word 'wisteria', my mind just went to Wisteria Lane of Desperate Housewives fame.

Then there is a bigger pond with this structure where you can just sit awhile, eat snack, and enjoy the view. Honestly, going into the garden, I wouldn't expect that there are all these things inside it.

After the garden, my next stop is Ginkakuji. I'm not sure why I chose it. Maybe because its name is similar to the delightfully golden Kinkakuji. It was a bit of a hike up from the bus stop, but the street is lined up with many interesting shops. I kinda glad I visited it because I saw something different. There's one of those Japanese style sand garden. I felt like it completed my Japanese experience to see something like that although I am sad to say I didn't spend a long time to reflect on it. I didn't even stop to sit around it. There was this mound of sand which at that time I didn't understand the meaning of, but after wikipedia-ing, I realized it was to signify Mount Fuji. I had a good picture of it from a different angle when it's slightly covered by a Japanese pine tree and the leaves from that tree kinda signify clouds for me. Kinda cool. Perhaps the bigger sand area with carefully placed bumps signifies the sea with waves.

As I said, I didn't really hang around that area long, I just followed the path into the garden. The garden is rather different. The path goes up a hill which would bring you into a point pretty high that you kinda look at the temple being covered in trees. A rather cute Japanese girl in kimono asked my help to take her picture there and I kinda can see why many guys like Japanese girls. She didn't speak english and so I'm not sure I got the pictures the way she wanted it. Going down, there's also a nice view of the temple surrounded by the trees and the pond. Just like Kinkakuji, it seems that noone can actually enter the building. I wonder if it's possible and I just didn't realize it. Anyway that's Ginkakuji there hidden on the right there.

After I finished with the temple, I decided that the custard puffs at the nearby shop was too tempting. Being that I was in Japan, I settled for the green tea filling though to be honest I have mix feeling for matcha, not sure if I love it or not. The puff was big and the filling was generous and lucky for me it didn't have very strong tea taste in it. In fact as I was sitting there, a light bulb went on in my head. Since it's so green, I thought we should make filling with avocado cream. It would be so good!!! Someone out there gonna take this idea of mine :( Anyways, after that, I could just have gone back to the bus stop and figure out how to get to my last stop of Kiyomizudera. Unfortunately, I can't even understand myself why I did this, as I made my way, I saw on my left there's a nice looking path. Could it be the philosopher path? Up until now, I cannot confirm that to you. After contemplating a bit, I decided to take my chance and just take that path. Very stupid me to do so perhaps. It's just I kinda knew the path connect Ginkakuji to another temple and there's a bus stop at the other temple and I thought I would surely could then figure out my way when I reached the other side. The path however was very long, it took me a long time to complete it that at many points I began to think I made a mistake. It was a nice walk. The weather was nice. The trees were nice, there were some flowers, and next to the path there's a canal. There were also not that many people, another reason why I was thinking perhaps I was wrong to take that path. It also another point where I thought, this is another time today I walk alone in a pretty nice green place. I read that it does take around 30 minutes to complete it. So perhaps I did walk on the philosopher's path? I like to think I really did.

Just like earlier in the morning when I had an epic lost, I again didn't know where to go when the path ended. Sigh. I saw direction to some temples, but I didn't find any bus stop nearby. Maybe they were near and maybe it's just me who just have the tendency to miss out signs because for some reasons I wasn't in the correct angle to see them :( So I got lost, lost, lost. I kept on walking without any idea on how to help myself. For some reasons, I just thought I needed to find a bus stop, like that's my only solution. I didn't think of anything else, like why didn't you just get a taxi? I think taking a taxi would really solve my problem then. However, either perhaps because I wasn't really looking for them or there really wasn't any, I think I didn't notice any taxi going round the streets. The street wasn't really that busy in that area. I also couldn't find the bus stop. Maybe it's me, I just find bus stop in Japan is not really obvious. They are like just poles with a small sign that people can easily miss. Only in Tokyo, I saw the bus stop was slightly bigger with a shelter, but even then they are still small and people can still easily miss them. Maybe I just saw them wrong. Maybe they are just pretty obvious and it's all the fault of my Singapore-tuned brain. Anyway the thing is, even to find a bus stop, I didn't know which bus to take, so asking people wouldn't be really helpful. So I just kept on walking and then I found a subway station. Again here I wasn't sure which direction to take. In fact it took a long time for me to understand the whole map and finding where I was. Without a destination though, it's not very useful so I actually got out of the station and walked aimlessly around until I came to my senses that it was an even stupider plan. So I kinda admitted defeat and got back to the subway station. Figured out how to get to Kyoto Station. Again for some reason, I didn't just think about maybe I should just go there and then I can take the bus again to Kiyomizudera. Instead I stopped at another stop thinking that I figured out the map and there would be a bus there to take.

I got out from the subway station, saw the bus stop, but couldn't understand the sign. Crossed the street and saw another bus stop thinking that's the correct direction to take. Mulled over the map again and realized perhaps I was wrong and I decided to go back to the other side of the street. I was convinced that I was in the correct bus stop and the bus I needed to take would be there. There was an information panel, but it was in Japanese. Sigh. A Japanese lady actually came and kinda greeted me but of course I couldn't understand her and I couldn't ask her anything and she said something which of course I couldn't understand. I assumed she meant the bus would take a long time to arrive and so she kinda said goodbye and started walking away. The bus I wanted never came and I waited pretty long and so I just took the next bus that came which I was sure going to take me to Kyoto station. It did and by that time it was pretty late and I wouldn't have enough time to make it to Kiyomizudera and so I didn't :( I was (am still) disappointed about it. In between being lost twice in the day and having to walk a lot and not being able to do everything I planned, this failure as usual was kinda ruining my mood :( It's like I forgot about the fact that I saw awesome things in Sanjusangendo. Anyway I tried to comfort myself with the fact that parts of Kiyomizudera is under renovation. It's perhaps an amazing place to visit, but perhaps my time for it would be when the renovation is more completed. Also in retrospect, it's a good thing that I didn't attempt to explore the city on a bicycle, because if I got lost really far and I was really tired, I couldn't just got on a subway or bus to make my way back. So perhaps God has arranged it as such for me. Anyway, here's hoping for a next time and so I conclude this Kyoto part of my trip. For pictures from Kyoto, you can go here. I love Kyoto a lot. I like the fact that it has many temples and gardens. It's pretty much my favorite leg in this trip :)

:) eKa @ 11:23:00 PM •

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