Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Kyoto, Japan

Over Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving), Matt and I bussed, ferried, and trained to Kyoto. It was kind of a long trip for a four day weekend, but we only had the time that we had. Our first day of travel and hotel booking was expensive and trying, but the trip was definitely worth it. 
Our journey started on Thursday night. Our ferry left Busan on Friday morning, so we had to take the midnight bus after work to Busan. We got to Busan around 3am and had to hang out in the bus station until the subway opened at 5am. This was probably the most painful part of the journey. Those late night- early morning hours are rough in a bus station with no where to lie down. Busan's bus station is also strangely located far away from everything, so there wasn't anything to do but wait. We eventually got on the subway and found the international ferry terminal. We took a high speed ferry (3 hrs across the Sea of Japan - or as Korea calls it, the East Sea, they don't like to acknowledge that anything is Japan's). The boat was a hydrofoil, which means that something like a wing comes out of the bottom of the boat and the boat moves above the water, which is pretty ridiculous. Three hours later, we landed in Fukuoka, Japan. 
We got through immigration and made it to the train station only to find out that our train tickets were almost twice as much as we thought they would be. We hadn't brought enough cash to even cover our train tickets, but luckily, I brought my credit card for such a situation. I signed up for a credit card before I left and hadn't used it yet, but it worked. We boarded the Shinkansen, Japan's super high speed train/spaceship on train tracks, and sped away to Kyoto. 
We arrived in Kyoto only to find out that it was a holiday weekend in Japan as well and most hotel were full. The budget hotels were definitely full. We were lucky to find a room even though it was more than we were planning on spending. We ran into some other travelers stuck without a room. I don't think there was a single vacant room in Kyoto on Saturday night. Finally, by Saturday morning all of our hotel and travel arrangements were all taken care of and we could finally start enjoying Kyoto! 
Kyoto used to be Japan's capital city before Tokyo and is a huge center of culture. Only Rome has more UNESCO World Heritage site than Kyoto. The Kyoto map is peppered with them.  The United States only has 8 cultural heritage sites and we saw 6 in Kyoto last weekend and hardly put a dent in the Kyoto list. What I'm saying is that Kyoto is full of old, beautiful, important cultural sites. We started at Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion. 
It was really spectacular, set in a reflecting pond. This was the residence of a shogun in the late 14th century. When he died, he requested that it was turned into a zen temple. Not a shabby pad, huh?

Then we walked down the street to Ryoanji, a famous zen rock garden. Intro to Art History professors use this slide as an example of a zen garden. It's pretty famous, pretty zen, pretty sweet. 
People in traditional clothes walking into Ryoanji. 

Kyoto (and Japan) is bicycles town! Everyone rides a bike around- business men, kids, grandma, hip young people. They are all on sweet cruising style bike with plenty of basket space for carrying groceries or your cute Japanese baby. (PS- someone tell Kate that I saw a little Japanese girl wearing a t-shirt that said "Harrisburg, Pennsylvania", but I was to shy to ask her mother for a picture).  There are more bike parking garages than car garages. It's so cool. 

This is us outside of Nijo-jo Castle in the center of Kyoto. I wasn't really allowed to take pictures inside the castle, but here is the giant stone wall and moat. Matt is really into dry stone wall construction as they are ubiquitous in Pound Ridge, though not quite as impressive as this one. One really cool thing about Nijo Castle was that the floors chirp when you walk on them. They're called Nightingale Floors and have little wood parts pressed into the floor boards that chirp when you step on them. They were so that no one could sneak around or into the castle. There were all kinds of security devices here. This shogun must not have been popular. 
Saturday night, we set out for Gion, a neighborhood that supposedly Geishas frequent. We didn't see any, but we did find Yasaka Shrine, which was lighted and open at night. Most temples close before sunset. These are paper lanterns surrounding a pavillion in the center of the temple.
This is a shot from within the temple complex through the gate out onto Gion, the major entertaining district in Kyoto. 

On Sunday morning, we woke up early, hopped on a train for a short ride to Inari. We went to Fushimi Inari temple. It's a fox temple most well known for its trails and trails of orange tori gates. You may recognize these gates from a scene in Memoirs of a Geisha, where the young girls runs through these gates. They were incredibly beautiful and quite an experience to walk through. We went through about 30 minutes of walking through them and that was only about half-way. This was my favorite part of the trip. 

After Inari, we took another short train to the west side of town to an area called Arashiyama. It's further out and less developed than central Kyoto. Arashiyama backs up to a foot of a mountain and has several temples that you can walk to. We had a walking tour map and set out.
We first went to Tenryuji. While Ryoanji is famous for its dry zen garden, Tenryuji is known for its wet zen garden. The building was burned at some point, but the garden remains in its original state. Then we walked through a bamboo forest.

We went to several temples, all nestled away from one another  in the woods or in the hills. This is Jojakkoji, which was set up on a hill and another one of our favorite spots.

Late Sunday afternoon, we headed to Kiyomizu. It's on top of a hill and you have to walk up these tiny streets to get to it. 
This was by far the most crowded temple we visited on the trip, but it was cool nonetheless. It peaks out above the tree line. Maybe the end of day/ sunset is the most popular time to go. 

Though brief, this was a pretty awesome trip. I wish we had more time, but I guess it's never enough time. I would definitely go back and hope I can someday. 

No comments: