by Lillian Csernica on November 19, 2015
Yes indeed, between hospital stays I managed to run off to Kyoto, Japan for a week. Two of those days were spent in transit, but I did manage to do quite a bit in the five days I had to explore one of the most amazing cities on our planet. What made it even better was doing the exploring with my best friend, Patricia H. MacEwen.
It took one car, three planes, a bus, and a taxi to get us from my house to our hotel in Kyoto. I have many stories to tell about what happened to us in transit, both on the way to Kyoto and especially on the way home. I’m going to save those for a later post.
Day One: As we roamed the streets of Kyoto, in search of the nearest Citibank branch and the local post office, we were lucky enough to come across a few of the local Shinto shrines. Most of them were in honor of O-Jizo-sama, the god of children.
The first such shrine we found was on one of the major streets, tucked into a niche next to a big bank building. Most of the time we came across the shrines in what to us were side streets or back alleys.
It was quite impressive to see this shrine, complete with hand-washing station and the bell to ring. The shrine was spotless, well cared for, and clearly maintained with great respect and affection.
Pat discovered Bukko-ji Temple. This is one of the lesser known temples in Kyoto. The government is working to generate more interest in it, and I hope the project is successful. The temple complex is smaller than some, but even so it possesses that unearthly peace you find only in sacred places.
I have come to learn that my idea of Buddhist monks is based largely on Zen monks. There are at least five different Buddhist sects alive and well in Kyoto. Not all of them have monks in the sense that I recognize. This got more than a little confusing because some Buddhist men who work at the temples will wear a garment that looks like a black scholar’s gown. They also wear stoles which come in different colors. I asked about those, and if I understood the explanation correctly, the stoles indicate one’s home temple. (When we visited Higashi Honganji, there was an older gentleman in a three piece suit wearing a pale green stole of fine workmanship. The stole is what one wears when one visits a temple, much like as an Orthodox woman I cover my head and I do not wear pants when I go to church.)
Pat figured that we must have hiked a good three miles that first day. What an adventure! Yes, we did find Citibank. Neither of us had a Japanese bank account, so there wasn’t much they could do for us there. That’s why we went looking for the post office. As we knew from our adventures in Yokohama during Nippon 2007, the ATMs which will accept foreign debit cards are found in the post office. Unfortunately, by the time we found the local post office, we were thwarted in our efforts.
Yes, this is sideways. I find it rather fitting because our plans had gone sideways. See that little door on the left? In that tiny alcove we found the ATM. In a strange example of serendipity, when we went back the next day during business hours, the person in there using the ATM was an actual monk. Monks need cash too, but the sight still caused me a moment’s cognitive dissonance.
We’d been doing pretty well reading the map and navigating in the right directions, but as the afternoon wore on and our joints started to complain, we found ourselves getting a bit turned around. My Japanese is good enough to ask for help and figure out what I’m told in reply, so we made some progress. Somebody Up There took pity on us and sent us an angel in the form of a young lady named Manami. She appeared at my elbow and asked if we needed help, and once we explained where we were trying to go, she led both me and Pat down the street for at least two blocks and pointed us in the right direction. I tell you, the Japanese are more than just polite. They’re really nice, really kind people.
On the corner just down the street from our hotel was a McDonald’s. Call me a Philistine if you like, but after doing so much exploring on foot and absorbing so much really amazing culture, I needed the simplicity of a cheeseburger, fries, and a Coke. At this McDonald’s you ordered downstairs, took your drink and a number, then went up a flight of stairs to the seating area on the second floor. I’ve seen this design when I was at a McDonald’s in Amsterdam.
Pat and I settled in to enjoy our comfort food while we watched our temporary neighborhood shift from its busy day to the more carefree tone of a Friday night.
Here’s our room:
With a 7-11 right across the street and a subway station entrance practically outside the hotel’s front door, we had one of the easiest, most convenient vacation locations I’ve ever enjoyed.
Next up: The marvels of Higashi Hongaji!