Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Japan I've been longing to see..KYOTO!

My brother just flew in from DC the other day. He arrived with 2 goals. See a Tokyo Giants game...and see Kyoto. 3 days into his stay...we've fought half the battle. (G.I. Joooooe) But doing so is much easier said than done.
We left from Shinjuku station on the "Night Bus" at midnight. I was bright eyed and bushy tailed for the first 20 minutes. Proclaiming, "I'm not the least bit tired." As I had taken a nice lil 20 minute nap on the train, just 2 hours prior. Those proved to be famous last words, as I passed out something serious. Not awakening until 7AM as we'd just entered Kyoto City Limits. I swore I slept lightly, until my brother informed me we stopped 4 times as opposed to the 2 I'd remembered.

As our bus neared Kyoto station, we got a glimpse of the incredible sights to come. There was a HUGE temple to our right, that stretched for at least 3 blocks. It was enormous. I had no idea temples could reach such size. This crushed all previous expectations as I prepared myself to be blown away by the rich history that is Kyoto.

Traveling with Bub (Greg,) is always a treat. He's the type to research the hell out of every nook and crany of the city, then map out a plan of action. For those of you that know me, you know that is quite a contrast to my approach to any and everything in life, let alone traveling. But to his credit, researchers discover things like the 2000 yen (that$20) unlimited 2-day subway and bus pass. Not to mention, the rankings of each temple and shrine according to tourists' revenue. I busted his chops about the latter, but by the 3rd temple, I was like..."What's this one ranked? What's this one ranked!?!"

After a Japanese portioned breakfast. (So small I had to order 2.) We headed straight for Higashi Honganji Temple the one we'd seen from the bus. Although under construction, it did not disappoint whatsoever. As I said, Massive. However, the amazing part was, the construction that was going on. It turns out, it was to build a retractable roof over the entire temple. I've heard of stadiums with this feature..but a Temple?!? Impressive.

From there we hopped on the subway and made our way to Jujo station where a little walk guided us to Fushimi Inari Shrine which was full of bright orange gates. They were any and everywhere. Most of which had divine looking kanji on them, which frustrated both of us, because we had no idea what they said. It's an interesting dichotomy to be simultaneously Wowwed by a relic, while acknowledging only half it's significance can be percieved on account of illiteracy. Still gorgeous, nonetheless.

As we were making our way out of the temple, we crossed paths with a Turtle (Go Terps!) This may have been an omen of sorts as Buddha was attempting to tell us to move slowly and don't rush. Unfortunately, only hindsight would provide such vision.

When we left the temple we strolled back down to the main drag with plans to catch the bus. Enroute, we came across some school kids who looked to be on their "School Trip."

In Japan, most Middle School aged kids take a 2-3 day trip where they go to Kyoto and or Nara and go see the Temples and Shrines and such. They stay in nice hotels, and from what my older students share with me, it's one of the more memorable trips of their lives.

This being my 1st trip outside of Tokyo since my arrival 8 months ago, I finally got a glimpse of the dynamics I'd expected upon departure from the States. I don't know if they were just small town kids, or if even in the rest of the metropolitan areas in Japan there's not really that many black people. But these kids were oooooing and aaaahhhing all day. Stopping taking pictures with me. Testing their English, asking all kinds of was too cute. Bub was cracking up the entire time.... and I just sponged it up, like "Hey...I'll be a Star for a day. Why Not?!?"
When we arrived at the bus stop, we actually saw the bus we wanted pull away just as it was in sight. This put us in a predicament, as we now had 30 minutes before the next bus would come. Our choices were, wait, or venture off on foot and soak in more sights along the way.

The map showed a couple more temples not too far away, so we opted for the latter. Remember the turtle? Yeah...well, we scurried off. But our map but a bit vague. Hence, we walked..and we walked...and we walked...right on by BOTH temples and didn't even know it. Well that is UNTIL, we both gave each other that look and said.."DAMN! I'm exhausted!" Of course, I'd been the beneficiary of all Bubba's hard work and preparation. But all that walking in the heat, gave me a serious case of amnesia as I had no choice but to question his abilities as a navigator! For the record, I was that guy....talking all types of trash, but not once considering taking the map and attempting to get our bearings!! But that's what little brother's are for. Bicker and Bitch. Be a downright nuisance. But not help!!

Eventually, we staggered into the next cluster of temples and shrines. Just when we appeared to be on our last legs, we entered Sanjusangendo Temple. Talk about a rebirth! From the outside, it looked like all the rest. Perhaps a little on the long side, but still nothing overly impressive. Unlike the others, when we entered, they requested that we remove our shoes immediately. As we began walking in Bub said, I think you're gonna like this, this is the one that has....just as I turned the corner he said 1,001 Kannan Statues.... A-MAZING! My entire state of being shifted immediately. This was the first time I felt as if I was in the presence of something greater. Each statue has it's own individual style. And some of the more formidable deities stood before them. All of this was tied together by one enormous (I believe it was) Buddha who sat in the middle. I wish I had photos to share, but pictures were not allowed. Even that was a blessing, because this place had such a strong feeling to it, that picture taking would have disrupted the energy entirely. I can tell you now, at the end of Day 1, that was my favorite so far.

From there, we went in and out of about 4 more temples. Taking it in and snapping away photo after photo. And eventually, we made our way to the #4 ranked temple in Kyoto, Kyomizu-dera Temple. The setting alone, separated this from the others. All the previous temples were pretty much in neighborhoods. But this one was atop a hill, overlooking the entire city. Not to mention a (dare I say) beautiful graveyard, which led Bub to ask..."Is it OK to take a picture of a Graveyard?"

"Yyyyeah, if not, I'm sure you'll figure it out by the time you wake up tomorrow morning!"

Not only were the structures ornate but their color schemes caught my eye more than any of the other temples had. There was also the LOVE STONES! This one lit up Bubba's life! Appartently, if you can walk from one stone to the other with your eyes closed, you will receive the blessings of Love from Buddha and good karma will surround that area of your life. He made it! Perhaps I offered a lil guidance, but isn't that often the case with Love. The cool part was, everyone in the vicinity was cheering for whoever was attempting to walk the walk. So when they touched all the school kids and even grown folks in the area shouted out, "Heeeeeyy!" It was fun.

We checked out a couple more spots before hunger kicked in. I'd received a tip, to try the udon in Kyoto cause it's apparently different than that of Tokyo. I don't really remember the Tokyo taste too tough, but the one I had today was Deee-licious. And Bub was happy with his eel, so the sometimes difficult task of finding a place to eat in a foreign city, worked out just right for us this round.

As we left the restaurant, we got an unexpected treat. 5 Geisha's walked by, captivating the attention of all in the vicinity. There was one main girl who was telling them what to do, when to stop and let people take pictures and such. She looked at me, smiled and winked, then asked me for my number. I said, "Sorry Love, I don't do the whole Geisha thing, I'm into girls with booties and breast! But my brother here's pretty hard up!!" No dice..and we kept it moving!! :)
The only disappointment of the day came as we took a rather extended bus ride across the city to get to Kinkakuji Temple. This, the only one I had starred on my list as all of my students proclaimed its' excellence. It is also #1 in Bub's rankings. As the anticipation rose with each nearing footstep, we got slain in our tracks by the security guard at the front gate. "Clos-ee." We're closed. Just wasn't meant to be. However, we now know exactly where tomorrow will begin!

Can't wait!

Also visited: Ryozen Museum of History, Kodaiji Temple, Maruyama Park, Yasaka Shrine, and Gion Corner (Geisha Headquarters!)

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