Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Hawaii and Japan, 2014 - 10/29 - Day 13 - Kyoto Temple Run, Part 1

Breakfast at the Ryokan
Breakfast at the Ryokan was another impressive affair, served in our rooms by our private attendant. There was smoked grilled fish, tea with salted apricot (a tradition of the ryokan), little baby whole sardines with grated radish, pickled vegetables, miso soup, and a citrus scented chawanmushi, which is a type of mild egg custard.
After we checked out of the Ryokan we took the subway to the airBnB where we'll spend the last few nights of our stay in Kyoto.  The place we are staying appears to be a converted office building. It's a studio with a relatively large living space and a big Turkish looking tent over the beds. The host calls this room the "cocoon room." Very arty.
After re-settling in our new place, we decided to have a light lunch by heading to a bakery nearby. We bought some various pastry filled with various things, and then went out to discover how to use the bus system in Kyoto. It turned out to be relatively simple - if one is planning to use the bus more than twice, it behooves the person to buy a day bus pass, which allows them to hop on and off the bus any number of times over the course of a single day. You buy the bus passes at local convenience stores.
Half the day was already burned, but we headed out to Southern Higashiyama, the district in Kyoto with the highest concentration of tourist attractions. This is the primary Kyoto Temple run. The whole thing is about 11 kilometers of walking through hilly and often winding stone roads and walkways, but we only did half of it today, starting at the southernmost attraction, Kiyomizu-dera.
Kiyomizu-dera means 'pure water temple' and is a large Buddhist temple built atop a mountain spring. It is impressive not only because of its size, but due to the nature of the construction of the temple. which is partially built out onto large scaffolding overlooking the spring itself. Part of the temple was sadly under construction, so it wasn't as striking as it could have been, with half of the buildings covered with construction tarps.
Love Shrine at Kiyumizu Dera
One of the must-do's at Kiyumizu is to walk the Tainai-meguri path, a pitch-black walkway under the shrine with a beaded line that you have to hold onto to keep from getting hopelessly lost in the darkness. The path is a symbolic rebirth through the birthing bits of Daizuigu Bosatsu, a Bodhisattva who grants wishes. You wander down the dark canal, leaving your physical form behind you, enter into a dimly lit alcove where a spinning stone sits, presumably representing your new, soon-to-be-reborn egg-self. You touch the egg, wish for something hopefully less shallow than a new car or a puppy or whatever, and then continue to follow the line and are reborn into the world, bursting forth into new light and life.
Yeah, that's what was supposed to happen. What ended up happening for me is I got halfway down the proverbial vagina, touched the stone, got totally disoriented and wound up working my way back up the wrong passage and getting almost totally back to the beginning before realizing what I was doing was against the natural flow...coincidence? I suspect not, Bodhisattva.
Anyway, we made our way through the symbolic vagina eventually, and wandered about the temple grounds some more, stopping at the true love shrine where lovers come to pray for strong relationships, and skipped out on drinking the purifying waters of the spring because there was a huge line, and we were pretty sure that even if the spring water was pure, those cups everyone was using to drink from it had a cumulative million lips upon them that day alone.
A stroll down Ishibei-koji
Once again, in an effort to summarize, I'm not going to talk about everything we did today. It was a long walk and we saw so many gorgeous temples and shrines it's difficult to separate them in my head. We saw a huge necropolis, a gorgeous old Kyoto street called Ishibei-koji, the shrine of a wealthy family called Kodai-ji, which we caught right at the magic hour and I practically burned out my camera taking pictures. We walked through some parks, ate ice cream with yuzu marmalade, and I was just thoroughly re-enchanted with the Kyoto shrine district. It really is something special.
That night we returned to Gion, to a restaurant called Gion Manzara, which is a bar that also serves food called izakaya, which is a lot like Japanese tapas, food made to be eaten while drinking. They make their own sake at Gion Manzara, and we consumed much of it, all the while enjoying various dishes like stewed simmered pumpkin, boiled eel with sansho leaves, sashimi style seared wagyu, and my first taste of fresh matsutake mushrooms, the flavor of which, to be honest, was a little like wet paper. I mean there was a layer of complexity to it that was enjoyable...I just wish the water paper taste was a little less pronounced.
I actually had a moral dilemma at the restaurant, possibly one of my first when deciding whether I was going to order something. They had whale sashimi on the menu, and whale is one of those things that you're not likely to come across very often. There *are* sustainable and 'reasonably' ethical whale hunting practices out there, but it was impossible to know how this particular whale was fished, so I opted out of trying it. As much as I love trying new things, I guess I have some lines, and I've had it drilled into me for a so long that whale fishing is brutal and horrible, that it's hard to separate that from the experience of eating it. So no whale for now. Maybe some day the opportunity will arise for me to try some that I know has been fished ethically...or as ethically as anything else in that vein.
Tomorrow we try to finish the temple run and check out central Kyoto and the Imperial palace as well. We've got all of today and part of tomorrow to wind up Kyoto. To be honest I wish he had at least another day here, but we didn't want to miss Nara and Osaka, so sacrifices had to be made. Anyway, onward!

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