Location: Kyoto, Japan
Weather: Sunny and 32 F
今日は (konnichi-wa = hello)!!
I have now had a few days here in Japan where I am happily housesitting and seeing the sites around Kyoto. Seeing as this is my first post from Japan, it’s time for your geography lesson! Japan is an archipelago of 6,852 islands. The four largest islands are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku, together accounting for ninety-seven percent of Japan’s land area. Kyoto is in the central part of the island of Honshu, Japan. And it was once the imperial capital of Japan. It has a population close to 1.5 million.
So why did I choose to come to Kyoto out of all the places in Japan? There are two reasons. The first relates to practicality. I stumbled across an opportunity to house-sit for a couple here in Kyoto who were going on a family vacation. They were going on a two week family vacation and have three cats in need of food and attention. So in exchange for watching their cats, I get a free place to stay in an expensive country. Sounds like a good deal to me! The second reason is based on the fact that Kyoto is home to over 2000 temples and shrines. It is central to Japan allowing me to take a few day trips to other cities. I am not a huge fan of big cities, so not having to stay in Tokyo was appealing as well.
The house I am staying in is a traditional Japanese house that is large by Japanese standards. Sounds cool, right? Lots of shoji screens and open spaces! It is pretty cool looking, but there are some challenges as well. The main one is temperature. They do not use any kind of insulation and all of the big glass windows that make up at least one wall of each room are single pane and poorly sealed. So…that means that without heating, the room quick returns to the outside temperature of about 35 F/1 C. Brr!! I should now add in that they do not have central heating in Japan. So all of the heating is done by way of space heaters. The heaters in this house are kerosene heaters. They are amazing at heating the room quickly. In about 10 minutes, the room will heat up to 70 F/20 C, but if you don’t keep it turned on, it will very quickly return to a very chilly room! So that means that you pick a room, heat it up, and stay there! It took me a day or so to get used to the flow, but now I have the hang of it! I also now know why Ninjas move so quick and are so covered up.
So let’s get to the good stuff – the sights! Of course! That’s why you are here! When I first get to a new place, I like to walk around and get the “feel” of the city. I started my walking tour is what is arguably the most famous temple here in Kyoto. It was about a 45 minute walk from where I am staying. It is called Kinkaku-ji and is also known as “The Golden Temple”.
It is a Zen Buddhist temple on a man-made lake surrounded by a beautiful garden. It was definitely the most crowded of the temples I went to on this day. On July 2, 1950 the pavilion was burned down by a 22-year-old monk, Hayashi Yoken. The present pavilion structure dates from 1955, when it was rebuilt. The reconstruction is said to be a copy close to the original, although some doubt such an extensive gold-leaf coating was used on the original structure. Yup, it’s really coated in gold. Imagine what one of those “Cash for Gold” places could get for that thing!!
After finding a bench in the forest, I ate my packed lunch and enjoyed the beautiful scenery and listened to the peaceful sound of birds chirping. Just a short walk away was Daitoku-ji Temple. Daitoku-ji originated as a small monastery founded in 1315 or 1319. Like many other temples in Kyoto during that time, the temple’s buildings were destroyed by fire and then rebuilt. Many of the temples around the city are hidden. You will be walking down a narrow alley and then BAM! Temple!
Daitoku-ji is closely linked to the Japanese tea ceremony. For a fee you can watch the ceremony, but I chose not to because the price didn’t seem worth it. This was really more of a complex of temples and sub-temples. Each one had a separate fee to get in, and they all pretty much looked alike. I am sure there were many differences, but the signs and guides were in Japanese, so I have no idea what they were.
I meandered on down the road to the next temple on my agenda for the day, Toji-in temple. It was a neat walk as I had to go through a little more hilly area and a university. I was enjoying the walking as much as I was enjoying the temples. I had no idea what a treat that Toji-in was going to be for me! From the outside it didn’t seem much different than the last temple, but once I started walking around, I saw so many differences!
To start off with, there was a HUGE painting at the end of the hallway in the main building greeting me on my tour.
The painting was literally about 8 feet square. It looks like something you would see on Adult Swim! I looked around the building and then walked through an archway over to a room called Reikō-den where there were 16 Shogun statues. As I was attepmting to snap a picture, my camera died. Seriously bad timing. Luckily I realized that I had my iPod so while the picture quality might suffer a bit, I will still be able to capture my day. Okay, back to the temple…The sixteen statues are lined up in two rows on the sides of the room, each sitting and carrying a shaku symbolizing their shogunal power. The room was a bit dark, but you could see that it was an active place of worship because there were live flowers and incense burning. I got the best picture I could with my iPod and moved on.
Thats when I was blown away. I walked around the back of the temple and saw the most amazing pond and garden I have ever seen. I know that my pictures will not do this justice, but it was so incredibly peaceful and calming to be walking around the gardens. I just wanted to spend the rest of my afternoon just enjoying the sights and sounds!
I could have stayed there for days, but alas, they closed at 4:30 and I had to move on.
As I made my way back home, I passed by the Hirano Shrine and grabbed a few more pictures. They were not open for visitors, so I just took some pictures from the outside and walked on home! Overall, it was a great day and I enjoyed all of my walking and the sights. I went home, and while I was making dinner, made a list of a handful more spots I wanted to check out.
Just a side note about my time here in Japan. With the dollar exchange rate being what it is, Japan is really expensive. I have been told that a can of Coke is a good way to put it in perspective, so that runs about 150 Yen which equals a little over $2 a can. A bowl of noodles is 900 Yen which is about $12. Call me cheap if you want, but I am not going to spend $12 on a bowl of noodles! Sushi dinner? At least $90!! Ack!! So I will not be providing you with a lot of food descriptions on this leg of the trip. I knew how expensive it was here, so I brought a bunch of food over from Korea with me and went to the grocery store for the fruit and other perishables.
Some of you may think that it’s a crime to travel and not sample the food, but this is a long trip and I have to keep expenses in mind. For example, lets say that I got an egg and toast for breakfast $8, noodles for lunch $12, and sushi for dinner $90. Thats $110 in one day and that would feed me for at least a week in some of the other countries I will be visiting. So…there you go! I will pack my lunch and go home for dinner and save myself a ton of money that I can use later to try out Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Laotian, or even Cambodian food. Besides, you can get Japanese food at home!
As John Stuart would say, I will now leave you with this moment of Zen:
Thats all the time I have for blogging today, but I will continue to keep you updated on what I’m up to over here!
それでは (SOH-reh deh-wah) Bye for now!