We took a Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto, cruising at 300 km/h while enjoying nice views of Mt. Fuji along the way. I did not know that in the 53 year history of Shinkansen they have carried more than 5 billion passengers without a single fatality.
We woke up our first morning in Kyoto to unexpected snow. Jo and I let the grumbling kids stay at home and we went to Kinkaku-ji. We watched the golden pagoda serenely glistening in the morning light while huge soft snowflakes floated down around us. The crowd of tourists was meanwhile less serenely pushed through a stockade of fence-work around the beautiful grounds. I guess it’s just the sheer number of us. Tourists are the worst : )
In the gently falling snow, Jo and I walked on to Ryaon-ji, the combination of fifteen famous rocks and bits of moss enclosed in a sublime courtyard of manicured gravel. I sat and contemplated the garden from the ancient wooden steps of the pavilion for the third time in my life till my slippered feet got too cold. We returned to the gate, got our shoes, and walked through the moss gardens – Jo’s favorite part.
Kyoto is a city chock full of temples, shrines, and gardens. One of the most picturesque is the Fushimi Inari shrine with the thousand orange torii gates built on the path to the shrine. We met three young ladies from Canada on vacation. They were dressed in kimonos (there are kimono rental shops in Kyoto for this purpose). So Jo and I got into a discussion about cultural appropriation. We don’t see eye to eye. The kids rolled their eyes.
Speaking of cultural appropriation, the torii of Fushimi Inari was the inspiration for the Christo and Jeanne-Claude installed art project consisting of seven thousand orange gates with saffron curtains arrayed around Central Park in the winter of 2005. Remember that?
One afternoon we took the metro to Arashiyama, a small town north west of Kyoto. It has a famous Buddhist temple and gardens and a “bamboo forest”. The “forest” (you get it, I’ll stop quoting the word now) is an overgrown bamboo plantation that is no long economically viable or necessary. It is beautiful. Someone put a half kilometer long path through the forest. The government added the place to the list of Japanese soundscapes. Condé Nast named it among the 50 most beautiful Places On Earth! Result: every tourist in Japan comes here and posts a picture of herself to her Insta account that her friends enviously like about for one second and then forget (I’ve used the female gender to show my disdain for the patriarchy).
We’ve been having fun with eating out in Japan. I’m leaving behind a tsunami of unacceptable behavior. Like the time in Tokyo at an izakaya when the waiter brought me a large (like 3-4 liter large) bottle of sake after he got me my sake. We later thought he wanted to show me the bottle he poured my sake from. Meanwhile I tried hard to undo the cap and get some more. Luckily I was unsuccessful. So I was bent of making a good impression at an izakaya we visited for dinner in Kyoto. This place has maybe 8 stools along a counter in a room so narrow that people further down from you pretty much wait till you are done – the classic first-in-last-out method from queueing theory.
With a little help from Jo (she took a semester Japanese sometime during her education) and an English to Japanese crib sheet on the menu, I said “Sumimasen, mizu wo kudasai”. Jo said that the other three other patrons of the restaurant and the chef and his assistant stopped breathing, waiting for every sound that came out of my mouth. When I finished they all broke into muted applause. The chef poured me a glass of water. Phew. I asked if I could take a photo of him. He posed with my teppan-grilled squid.
On our way out of Kyoto our cab driver gave us an impromptu tour of the city. He used a hand-held translator that worked pretty well. One of the places he stopped was the original head office of the Nintendo Playing Card Company. Then he dropped us off at the train station where we caught a train to Ōsaka.
Though, at some point we are going to have to talk about cultural appropriation.