Where was I?
Oh the Shinkanzen ….
We woke up early for Kyoto. Tarık got our Japan Rail Passes in İstanbul so all we had to do is go to the Tokyo Station and activate them. We got everything in order and with our Fuji Mountain side of the window tickets we sat down excitedly waiting for the wingless plane looking Shinkanzen to take off. All aboaaaaaard! (This was in Japanese of course…) The train moved and we kissed Tokyo goodbye. There are many types of bullet trains. I think Chinese have the fastest one but Japanese are the first to set the system. Our train wasn’t the fastest in Japan but we got up to 250 km/hr during the trip. A short while after the take off the glorious Fuji mountain peeked from the window. It is really stunning! There was not a cloud in the sky so we could see the mountain very clearly. No wonder the mountain is sacred.
After a little book reading ( by the way I am reading Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 ), a few naps, Kyoto info and 3 hours later, we were finally there. Taking the subway to Gion, we got off very close to our hotel. Took a glance at the room and we were out to explore the city. We hurried and walked to the Imperial Palace. The garden was very different from the one in Tokyo. We walked around the garden and took some photos but missed the visiting hours of the palace. You can go in the palace only 2 times a day during the week. Oh well….
After being rejected by the retired emperor, we decided to make an assault to the Nijo Castle! The beautiful Nijo Castle is well known for its unusually ornate interiors and nightingale floors. The floors were designed to make bird-like squeaking sounds when walked upon, a warning of the possible intruders (ninjas and such… ) It has an amazing rock garden, a great interior design which was painted by the Kano School (low ranking samurai family) and astounding gates with unusual wood work. Such a great place to witness.
Soon after we discovered every inch of the Nijo Castle, it was time for the Gion District. The Gion District has become my secret day dream place lately. I often day dream about the narrow street of Ponchoto Alley where it feels like a Hiroshige ukiyo-e print. I float around the alley in that same sunset, around the small tea houses looking at the menus and listening to the peoples voices and the catching a glimpse of a Maiko sitting on the floor with a pale blue kimono with ruby detailed sakuras. The lights, the colors, the feeling and the mood of the day dream has the same feel of a cat stretched asleep in an early summer afternoon sunlight. Gion is Kyoto’s best known geisha quarter where Japanese men come to razzle-dazzle. In the streets of Gion there are many ochayas where the professional geishas can be found. Geishas are professional entertainers who call them selves children of arts. Kyoto’s proud geisha prefer the term geiko while their young apprentices are called maiko. As we were looking around struck by the beauty of the Kurosawa film set looking streets, a maiko rushed from one of the ochayas almost moon walking in her tall koppori clogs out on the street. My heart jumped! After all that shock, we got in an izakaya and had shabu-shabu for dinner.
The next day we planned to finish all the places to see in Kyoto in order to travel to other cities around. We got up early to have some breakfast in the boulangerie right around the corner and started walking towards the famous Philosopher’s Walk. Philosopher’s Walk is one of the famous places to visit in Kyoto. It follows a cherry tree lined canal with small second hand stores, ceramic shops, small cafes, print shops and such… It is one of the places to see in spring I presume. The walk has a bohemian air which fills your heart and mind with a craving wish to open an atelier just in that corner with the cherry trees. That wish still hunts me down even I’ve been in İstanbul for a few weeks now. After the lovely walk we head to the Nishiki Market near by our hotel. The Nishiki market is Kyoto’s kitchen basically. You can find fish, meat, pickles, vegetables, sake and the famous Aritsugu knife shop in this market. I love walking through the markets of a new city that I go to, it gives you a very good idea of what is going on in people’s lives.
After a good night’s sleep we rose up to go Kobe and Osaka. On our way we had to go see the biggest temple in Kyoto, The Toji Temple which has the five story pagoda, the tallest wooden structure in Japan. We looked around and was lucky enough to bump into a flea market just around the temple. After the sight seeing, we hopped on our train to have “The Kobe Beef” for lunch. I am speechless! YUM! It is out of this world!
With the happy feeling of the outstanding meal, we traveled to Osaka the capital of the Yakuza. Osaka has a very different feel from the rest of the cities we traveled to. You can smell the illegal activity written on the streets. The city of Osaka doesn’t give you a warm welcome like the other cities. Of course nothing happened to us or nobody said anything but, somehow the city you live in encrypts a code to your body language and face expression that when an outsider comes, that code reveals what went down in that area. We walked around the streets enjoying the weather and decided to put an end to our day in the famous Spa World. The Spa World is a huge building that offers amazing bath experience. My tired body was begging for a nice long bath and a miraculous massage. When we got to the great doors of the biggest bath, we were dissapointed to find out that people would get offended if they see our tattoos. Tattoos are strongly associated with the Yakuza so it is considered anti-social in Japan. Anti social? Uncool? They kicked our asses out and soon we were back in our hotel. I filled in the smallest tub in the world, got in and shut my mouth.
Soon it was the last day of our amazing trip. For our last day we decided to go to The Nishiki Market in the morning to buy a knife from the Aritsugu, get some pickles and sake followed by a trip to Nara the oldest capital city of Japan. Planned as we did. Kyoto couldn’t hold its emotions buried in the ground and started crying. Our last day in Japan was a rainy day. We got in the train and made a stop in the famous Inari Temple which should be the temple of this blog really! You will recognize the red passage way as soon you see it.
After the Inari Temple, we were off to Nara. Nara has tons of old shrines and temples. I should explain the difference between a temple and a shrine. Buddhists pray in a temple which usually has a pagoda and statues of Buddha while people who believe in the Shinto religion (the ancient religion of Japan) go to a shrine. A shrine is used for the safekeeping of sacred objects, and not for worship. It usually has statues of demons at it’s gates and around. The oldest and the most famous temples are in The Nara Park so we walked. When we arrived at the park there was a huge surprise waiting for us. The dwarf deer are considered “messengers of gods” so they walk freely everywhere.
With our deer we walked to the great Todai-ji Temple. It is huge and unbelievable. The gigantic bronze statue of Buddha greets you when you enter the temple with his enlightened beings sitting by its side.
After the great temple we went to see the Kofuku-ji Temple which is famous for its 3000 lanterns. It is pretty amazing.
On our way back to the hotel I was feeling uneasy. At the end of each exciting vacation one of the strings in my heart falls on the ground of that place, lets its roots out and grows to bloom with love. Leaving the place just makes that sting go tight abandoning me with an uneasy feeling.
Dear Japan, I hope to see you again some time in spring this time. Domo arigato gozaimass for everything.