Kyoto field trip, day two.

Thursday came bright and early, and we were due to check out that morning. Everyone met in the lobby, luggage in hand, and we all headed back to JR Kyoto via the subways again. This time, we chose a room full of coin lockers and stowed our bags, then waited outside to catch a bus to the neighborhood near 東福寺.

A short walk took us up to the area just before the temple proper, but first we were given tickets to see the grounds. There are actually two parts to the place, we just chose the outside first. We took a group photo and then set off on our own to explore the area past a covered bridge. It was pretty nice, with meandering paths and official-looking building here and there. At the far end was a large courtyard, but the buildings were off-limits to enter. It’s hard to describe, really; while the grounds were pleasant to explore, they were also somewhat unremarkable.

Once everyone met back where we started, they gave us our tickets for the area with less greenery and more temple-looking structures. These were truly massive buildings, but again, no entry. The one place we were allowed to enter gave us a view of a really well-kept interior courtyard and rock garden with fine-swept sand. We were able to walk around the inner walls of that particular structure, but there was only so much to see before it was time to go back. I don’t want to make it seem dull — it wasn’t — but compared to some other temples, it merely seemed typical to me.

I checked their gift shop and found another distinct lack of ema, though they did sell a stick that one writes a prayer on and then burns at a specific ceremony (which I didn’t buy). We wandered back through the small neighborhood and caught the bus again, this time to the area near 清水寺。

Another short walk brought us to the bottom of a hill with very traditional-looking shops lining both sides of the narrow street. Closer inspection, though, showed that nearly all of them sold souvenirs, with the occasional restaurant here and there. The farther we climbed, the more dense the sightseers got. We passed an incredible amount of お土産 on our way to the top, and there we saw the temple’s outbuildings. It was impressive, and we hadn’t even gone up the stairs onto the grounds yet.

The view from the top of the steps outside Kiyomizudera.

They gave us a lot of time before we had to meet back at the base of the steps there, which I took to mean exploration time, but I was wrong — they assumed we’d be shopping and getting lunch. While I did grab a little lunch (some sort of shrimp thing on a stick), my mistake also meant that I had a really long time to thoroughly explore the buildings outside the temple proper (i.e. the free area), taking photos and marveling at the size and scale of everything. The view from up top, overlooking the old-style streets with the modern city of Kyoto beyond (and green mountains behind that) was marvelous. There’s a small temple building, beneath which is the (symbolic) womb of an aspect of Buddha. You pay a small donation and descend into a completely lightless hallway. Your only guide along the path is a set of large wooden beads along the left wall. Cameras, phones, etc. are forbidden, so you really can’t see anything at all. Ultimately, you reach a room with a small light upon a huge, round stone, which you’re supposed to touch and make a wish. From there, you return to the darkness and make your way out via a different staircase. After thoroughly exploring the grounds, I went back down to regroup. They led us back up onto the grounds and to the entrance to the temple itself (i.e. the paid area), where we were given our tickets and another time parameter. I finally realized my mistake, but this allowed me to bypass the outside and go straight in and look around. I snapped a lot of photos, prayed at a small shrine to a love deity (and wrote a prayer on a person-shaped paper doll that dissolved in water), then made my down to a place of particular interest: the Otowa waterfall.

Actually three narrow streams, the waters of Otowa are said to have mystical properties. The first grants health, the second good looks, and the third intelligence. However, you may only choose one to drink. It’s very popular, naturally, and the line was fairly long. Some of my group was ahead of me already, and another small detachment arrived after I did. You go behind the streams, overlooking the small pool they feed into, and take a cup on a long pole to catch your chosen water. (An interesting note is that the place you retrieve/replace the cups is an ultraviolet sterilizer, something I’d never seen before.) I chose the third stream (intellect), deciding I’d rather be smarter than healthier, and I’ve gotten by this long without good loooks, so why start now?

There wasn’t much else to see by that point, and I really did want to check out the souvenirs, so I hoofed it back to the top of the street and started down to see what was there. They had a lot of things geared toward women and chidren (accessories and clothes and toys), while things that were either gender-neutral or male-oriented were generally uninteresting. They had some wooden swords that looked cool, and weren’t even too expensive, but I really had no need for one, and transporting it home would have been a pain. I finally settled on a dark metal shuriken with an engraved dragon, which was surprisingly cheap and very portable. Satisfied, I plowed my way back up the hill just in time to meet everyone.

Since this was our last big stop, it was time to make our way back, but we weren’t in a hurry. We ambled through more old neighborhoods filled with souvenir shops, taking photos and enjoying the atmosphere. We stopped for a moment in Maruyama Park, apparently well-known in the area, but quickly moved on. We passed by small shrines (as well as one large one with a massive bell at the altar), old-style neighborhoods with traditional yards behind gates, and finally emptied out into the urban side of Kyoto. It was several more blocks and a bridge before we got our final bus to the main train station. Once there, we were given one more block of time to split up, after which we’d reclaim our luggage and go.

JR Kyoto, in addition to being a work of modern art filled with shops, is also rather difficult to navigate. I got turned around more than once, so while my groupmates were relaxing, I was exploring and getting (briefly) lost. I got back in time, though, and we boarded the Shinkansen and were home almost before we knew it. The staff bid us goodbye at JR Nagoya and left us to get back home the same way we got there in the first place: on our own. Since I’d been solo the whole trip, I left by myself and managed to get back before everyone else. We had the following day off, which was nice, but I had made plans already, so I wanted to unload my luggage and get some sleep.

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