Wednesday, April 04, 2007

This Last Weekend's Adventure: Part 1

As mentioned last post, this weekend was busy; very busy and tiring but quite fun.

On Saturday, I called in sick to work. Have you ever noticed how much sweeter the air is and how much more blue the sky appears when you call in sick? Any good day turns into a great day when you aren't working but should be. Anywho, my illness cleared up within minutes of calling in and I felt strong enough to make the trip to Kyoto. I
gathered my gear and headed out the door and to the train station.

Two hours later, I am strolling through Kyoto station trying to decide what to do first. The cherry blossoms were out, the day was warm, and I was free. I went to Kiyomizudera straight away or at least I thought I that was where I was headed. The problem with sakura (cherry blossoms) is that everyone wants to see them and have a picnic under the pale pink shade they provide. The viewing and enjoying of the sakura is a centuries old tradition known as "hanami". Pretty much everyone in Japan does this and Saturday seemed to be the day that most people decided Kyoto was a good place to flock to. Since what seemed to be a third of Japan had the same idea as I did, the lines for the buses that shuttle people to the many and varied temples throughout the city looked less like bus queues and more like lines for Space Mountain in Disney Land. There were security guards directing traffic for the throngs of people trying to get a bus. I decided then and there that I would be walking most of the day. On foot, I set off for Kiyomizudera.

After walking six or so blocks I decided to see how busy the subways were and found them to be almost abandoned. I took one to a place that I thought would be pretty close to where I wanted to go. My destination was a bit further away from my target than I anticipated and so more walking was in order upon leaving the subway station. This turned out to be a good thing. I found several temples and shrines that I had not seen or did not even know existed and it was a pleasant stroll. The only downside to the day was that it was overcast and the blue sky that looks so nice when filled with sakura was instead, a pale gray.

On the upside, it was about this time that I came across my first geisha of the day:

While walking, I came across the Japanese Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and went inside for a look around. The place was almost empty so it was very quiet and relaxing. To my surprise, the tomb also acted as a shrine to the people who have died of Fugu poisoning. Fugu is what the poisonous puffer fish is called here. People like to eat it as sushi and only a licensed sushi chef can prepare the dangerous fishy, obviously, some chefs need to practice a little more or else this shrine would be unnecessary. It was in this tomb/shrine complex that I found the most pink cherry blossom tree I have ever seen. I was amazing and beautiful and these are some pics of that tree and the location as a whole.

Oh yeah, the shrine had one of the biggest Buddhas I had ever seen. Here is the Fugu shrine:

And this is the amazing pink sakura tree:

I continued my stroll to Kiyomizudera upon leaving the large Buddha and the very pink tree. As I made my way closer to the ancient water temple, it got much busier and I also spotted three more geisha:

Finally, I reached the entrance to Kiyomizudera. Upon ascending the stairs, my eyes fell on four more white faces hovering above four brightly colored kimono; four more geisha fell to my mighty camera.

It was at Kiyomizudera that my day took an unexpected turn, I went from being a tourist to being a tourguide. But before I get into that, here are a few more pics of Kiyomizudera:

Above, is one of my favorite pics taken that day. Its very simple and I like it for some reason. The rest are pretty self-explanatory. I do like the little shrine I found the in nook of an old tree, I am not sure how many people notice it and I was glad that I did.

After snapping pics and tasting the water from the spring that flows through the temple (you have to make a wish while you drink it but you don't get to know what I wished for) I started toward the exit. This is about the time I ran into a group of high school kids from California and their adult keepers. I started talking to them because they were asking all sorts of questions that their teachers didn't know but I did. As the conversation continued I found out they were all with their marching band and that Bakersfield, California is the sister city of Wakayama, Japan. Who knew? Anywho, I talked with them a bit and felt kind of bad for them because they ventured into the city without a tour guide and none of them knew Japanese. Japan is a fun place to visit if you know someone that knows his or her way around. A vacation to Japan without some sort of a guide is kind of a waste. I was glad to answer some of their questions and I was also able to convince a couple of geisha to pose for pictures with the kids. They were are grateful for that. After a few minutes a wished them a good trip and started back to Kyoto station on foot.

I had not gone but a few blocks when I ran into another flock of white people at an intersection. They were all making the befuddled whitey face so I asked them if they needed some help. As it turns out, these people were a splinter cell from the previous group I had just finished talking to. They were looking for Kyoto station and I told them that was where I was headed and if they cared to follow me, I would lead them to their destination. Along the way, I got to know the kids and the two adults escorting them and I turned into a tour guide for the second time that day. I answered most of their questions and showed them a couple of shops and a Starbucks. After that, I took them to the station itself and showed them around there. About this time, hunger started to creep up on all of us so I introduced them to some of the biggest hamburgers in Japan. Overall, I think I spent about five hours with this group of people and we all enjoyed the experience. I enjoyed talking to people that were fluent in English and they enjoyed having a tour guide. They even went so far as to all have their pictures taken with me; it was fun and I was glad to help them. Finally, I showed them the bus that would take them back to their hotel and we parted ways. It was almost ten o'clock and I needed to catch a train back home. This brought the first day of my three day extravaganza to an end. Tune in tomorrow to hear my tale of woe as I take an unexpected hike through thousands of red gates and up a largish mountain, capping the day off with the sorest pair of feet I have ever walked on.


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