So, this past weekend I did many exciting things: went to Kyoto, went to Kamakura, went to an Alice Nine concert. I figure, since I blurb so often on alice nine, I'll save that long-winded tale of awesomeness for my family, but instead I'll tell you about my trip to Kyoto, as it probably would draw more interest from most of you reading. Well, we went first to a temple in an area called Arashiyama, which is said to be beautiful because of it’s maple trees. You see, now is supposed to be the season for the leaves to turn, though unfortunately, when we went, they had yet to do so. Even so, the temple was quite impressive, and the street leading up to it quite fun. The street embodied my vision of Kyoto, with shops selling fans and traditional Japanese street vendor snacks, with kimono shops and other such things (unfortunately, because my host parents are Japanese, they don’t have any interest in looking at such goods, so the shopping aspect of our trip was kept at a minimum until the end). The temple was extremely large, its overhanging balcony being quite famous for some reason or other that I couldn’t quite pick out (unless that it was simply made of wood, without the use of iron nails or bolts). I think the temple was called something like Mizuko or something similar, which is a word for a type of Buddha or doll or something. You can see how much I know about Buddhism. It also harbors the 11 face Buddha, which has, I think, 11 heads rather than 11 faces, and real Buddhist monks in their black robes (I saw one meditating up in the woods on the side of the mountain). The leaves, for the most part, hadn’t turned yet, but there were a few pretty trees, and once one disentangled themselves from the crowd (field trips galore), it was actually quite magnificently beautiful, just like a post card.
When our time was nearly up, we popped in to a store where I got a cream puff filled with green tea soft serve ice cream (green tea soft serve is wildly popular here), and tried a type of sweet thing that is famous and particular to Kyoto. It looks the consistency of a thin, see-through crepe, though it is made of mochi (rice pounded to be sort of sticky and chewy), and the inside is usually Adzuki beans, though there is strawberry filling and others too, and it’s dusted with something like cinnamon. It was quite delicious. (Oh, also, Kyoto is famous for some kind of special blotting paper for your skin). Anywho, we piled back into the bus (I hit my head on the ceiling), and we took off on a 30 min. or so drive to the next temple, which was situated beside a row of large hills, next to a river. The temple itself, we didn’t go see, but rather crossed the river and looked at the scenery, watching as an unfortunate couple in a rowboat got stuck halfway out, waiting for someone to come rescue them. Dodging the young, handsome men urging you to let you drive them around in their rickshaw (all rickshaw drivers are skinny, tall, handsome young men never older than about 25), my host mother took be down to the river edge and told me of how she and my host dad had secreted away to this very spot before they were married for a romantic weekend, then asked me not to tell the kids, as it was a secret even from them. Of course, this prompted me to ask the question that you, mom, have wanted to know for some while: How did you and my host dad meet? Of course, considering their highly traditional family backgrounds, I’d automatically assumed that it had been arranged, but it seems that while she was in Tokyo for college, they first met by chance at a Disco, then bothered their friends into giving them a formal introduction later. (Motown and the Supremes are particular favorites of theirs, as the dad told me while he showed me his secret storehouse of old records; my host mom is going to some old singer’s concert next month [maybe Earth, Wind and Fire?]). After admiring the scenery a while, we popped into a large, bustling restaurant specializing for the bus tours (we got coupons), and I got to eat at my first short table on a tatami mat (had to take off my shoes too). I was told that Kyoto is so hot in the summer and so cold in the winter that it’s not a place people particularly want to live, and that the food is rather unremarkable save for their tofu, so of course, we had tofu for lunch. To be more descriptive, there were little petri dish sized plates of various pickled vegetables, then a bowl of soba noodles, sea weed and tofu in a cool, mildly flavored broth, and then another bowl with a plop of tofu and a spoon (you put a little salt on it and eat it plain). While it’s not my favorite thing I’ve eaten here, it’s most certainly not the worst. Then after lunch my host mother more or less forced me to go to the bathroom (even though I didn’t need to), as she’s taken it as her personal mission (after urgings from her sister, whom I met only once), to protect the health of my bladder (she is under the impression that I don’t go to the bathroom enough, though when you’re drinking from orange juice sized glasses, you’re not really dumping too much in the tank).
We strolled around that area for a little bit longer, not paying to get into the biggest temple, but skirting around the little walkways around it to see the pretty trees inside. Then we piled back in the bus and took off again for another 30 min. drive, and by that point I was so tired that I feared nodding off and honestly didn’t know if I was going to make it through the last two stops. We drove past some magnificent looking temples/shrines, and past a place called a Rock Garden, which was mostly a sea of statues and large, plain rocks like you’d see in a gorge. Our third stop was at The Golden Pavilion, which is a structure surrounded on all sides by a lake, where some bigwig samurai or other lived on the first and second floors (the first is wood and the top two are made entirely of gold, inside and out), and the top floor is supposedly Buddha’s room. It had the most beautiful trees, with leaves falling all around, and when the sun hit it just right it was quite an astonishing site. My host mom bought some green tea chocolates here and then we piled back into the bus for our final stop. The last place we went was a shrine, whereas all before had been temples. And it was pretty cool (my favorite place of the four). When you walk into the main entrance, you’re looking over a large open courtyard of gravel almost half a football field wide I’d say, just like you see in all those movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Then, beyond is the building, a bright orange color, and inside, of course a shrine. Then, being part of a tour, we got to go through a side door to the pathways beyond, leading past a lovely pond to an even larger pond, perhaps one might even call it a lake, where there was a traditional two story building sitting on the water, and a covered, ornamental bridge that was just begging to have pictures taken of it. I also forgot to mention that all along the step-stone path, or rather, all above it, were cherry trees and cherry blossom trees, though all of course bare (though you could see the little stems hanging down from the branches on the cherry trees. And this more or less concluded the bus tour.