Kyoto: the official anagram of Tokyo
This weekend started with yet another 8 AM alarm and a trip to somewhere I desperately didn't want to be (i.e. anywhere but my bed). We started off our adventure with a Shinkansen ride to Kyoto, which actually was pretty fun. From the inside, it was eerily similar to an airplane that rocked a bit every few minutes--and with better scenery. I managed to stay awake the entire two-hour, 175-mph ride down, but didn't see too much of note.
We spent Saturday, Sunday and Monday morning in Kyoto, the capital of Japan from about 1200 to 1700 AD. (Interestingly, it's still considered a 'capital' by some Japanese even today, though it has no official designation as such.) The rest of Monday was spent in Nara, some 20 miles away and the capital of Japan during the 8th century AD. The overwhelming majority of our time was spent visiting assorted temples and shrines, so I'll try and give a quick rundown of each of those:
Sanjusangendo Hall: Contains 1,001 life-size replications of the Kannon Buddha, as well as one pretty big replication. Something like eight hundred years old.
Nijo Castle: The home of the shogun when Kyoto was the capital of Japan. This series of palaces has, among other security systems, boards that "squeak like nightingales" when you step on them. Also has one heck of a moat, and an innermost palace we didn't even have time to see.
Kikakuji Temple: The "Golden Temple"; definitely the #1 destination on this trip for the "Ooh..." Factor. Burned down by a crazed monk in the 1960s, then rebuilt with what must have been a ridiculously expensive amount of gold leaf. Lots of vending machines here.
Ginkakuji Temple: The "Silver Temple", though the silver was never actually put on. Probably the most aesthetically pleasing grounds of any temple I've seen so far. Makes sense; it's a Zen Buddhist temple. All of this, however, pales in comparison to this sign:
Kiyomizudera Temple: One of Kyoto's most famous temples, it's built onto a hillside that overlooks the entire sprawling city. Folks used to jump 40 feet from the main hall veranda to the ground to make wishes come true, and many survived. Now, it's just full of American tourists that you wish would give it a try.
Zenkyoan: We practiced Zen meditation here. We had to keep our eyes exactly half-open, so I was too busy concentrating on that to really get much else out of it. Folks could volunteer to get whacked on the back with sticks if they wanted to.
Horyuji Temple: The location of possibly the oldest wooden structures in the world; the main hall here dates back to about 800 AD. There's also a small museum with various artifacts dating back to the 7th century.
Kasugataisha: Home to a 1000-year-old tree and more lanterns than... I don't know, actually. Come up with a good ending to that sentence and win a prize. (No, seriously.)
Todaiji Temple: The location of the largest Buddha in Japan that I mentioned way back, though it only beats my Daibutsu by a few meters. The size of the hall enclosing it is quite impressive.
I barely got to see Kyoto at all, but it seemed like a very interesting and unique city. It's certainly more steeped in tradition than Tokyo, at least architecturally speaking. Unfortunately, it's also the most gaijin-ridden place I've seen so far in Japan. I realize this is at least a little bit of the pot calling the kettle black, but the fact is that most Americans who visit Japan seem to fall into one of three categories:
1) The Weekender. In the top 1% of their tax bracket, and attempting to keep from going any higher. Have already been to Paris, Acapulco, and Rome, and want to try something 'exotic' for a change. One mother and one child age 5-15 required; father and other siblings optional, but not necessary. Probably wonders why everyone around them talks about Ohio every morning.
2) The Animaniac. Making the pilgrimage to the Mecca of Tech. Fairly uncommon, and overwhelmingly found in Akihabara. More broad-minded Animaniacs may be seen elsewhere, though, trying to find better deals or (*gasp!*) actually experiencing local culture.
3) The Histo-Hipster. Coming to Japan to actually experience the local culture, and investigate first-hand the rich history they've been reading so much about between Fiery Furnaces concerts. Falls squarely into the "Some graduate school, no degree" education category you see on application forms. Generally good people, often better Japanese speakers than me, but occasionally a touch too proud about it.
(Note: If you're reading this blog and you know me, none of these apply to you. Besides, I'm a bit too much #2 to actually *criticize* most anybody.)
We managed to avoid the biggest conglomerations long enough to sing karaoke, partake in the Gion-Matsuri Festival, and stay at another ryokan. The latter was nice, just a bit... smaller than the one in Narita. They gave us a Western-style breakfast the last morning, though (replete with hash browns and egg sandwiches), which made up for everything. No cereal, alas. The first meal I'm having when I go back to the States is a bowl of Cracklin' Oat Bran.
The festival was also fun and also had a lot to do with eating. It was a touch crowded,
but I was able to find my way around with my group. I got a frozen banana and a blue-raspberry candied apple.
Tomorrow we have our second chapter test, then a few days off (crisis-wise), and then it's the uncontrolled spiral into finals and departure. I'll still be posting as much as possible, but wish me luck anyway.
Vending Machine Special: Blendy
Another example of putting-things-in-English gone wrong. The drink itself is okay for coffee, but I still prefer milk tea.