What an amazing day!
Our biggest event so far was today, when we had a walking tour of some important Kyoto sites. After taking bus and subway, we began in downtown Kyoto at Karasuma Shijo and Kawaramachi—a prime shopping and retail zone—then through the Teramachi shopping arcade. There was so much to see, that I quickly began going on overload. Some of the Language Partners (henceforth and forever to be known as LPs) came with us as well as Kishi Sensei (one of our teachers) and it was fun rotating around through the group as we walked, talking to everyone. Didn’t do much actual shopping (well none, actually) but saw lots of things to come back and do including an all-you-can-read manga shop where you pay by the hour and get free soft drinks. I also found great shops selling sensu (fans) for which I learned the new kanji.
And then lunch! For the first time, I got to eat Kaitenzushi, or “Revolving Sushi”. It’s basically an endless conveyor belt of sushi and other dishes that move slowly and conveniently past your table and you grab what you want, all for ¥100 a plate (just under a dollar). I ate something called Chawanmushi for the first time—it’s sort of an egg custard with crab, shrimp and other goodies inside—yum! The service, by the way, was amazing. We ran out of small spoons at the table, so our LP rang the little intercom, asked for more spoons which was followed by a P.A. announcement for the same and within 30 seconds we had more spoons. I love such efficiency…
Continuing the walking tour, we went through Pontocho and over to the Gion district. These are the areas where the famous Maiko and Geiko live, work and entertain (we in the west know them as Geisha). Amazing old buildings, very traditional ambiance—and very fast-moving Maiko. I was only able to get one mediocre photo of one as she zoomed inside the most famous of the tea houses at Gion corner. We too walked through all too quickly, and I’m definitely going to make a point of coming back here for a more leisurely stroll after classes sometime.
It was then a short walk to Yasaka Shrine, which was the first time I’d ever visited a shrine—complete with rinsing my hands and mouth at the fountain as I entered. It was beautiful and peaceful, though also quite crowded. Lots of vendors selling all kinds of things, including your fortune—even a juggling act which was quite entertaining. I then for the very first time got to go up to the shrine proper, toss in my coin, shake the rope to ring the gong (and wake up the gods), clap twice and offered my prayer. It was pretty cool. Well, except for the weather which by this time was once again quite warm and humid, but again vending machines for cool drinks are ubiquitous…
From there, we continued up hills and down dales through more fascinating historical areas, shops brimming with every kind of souvenir and merchandise possible. Even saw the departing guests from a wedding, the ladies all dressed in Kimono. Finally at the top we came to sort of the centerpiece of the visit today, Kiyomizudera.
Kiyomizudera is a world heritage site and amazing spot overlooking the entire city. The temple was first built in 798, but the current one we saw was only a reconstruction—built under Tokugawa Iemitsu in 1633…! The building itself is fascinating, being made entirely without nails or any such bracing, yet suspended over the valley floor on huge beams. The stroll continues down into the little valley, where we got to drink water from the sacred spring through the use of long ladles held out to catch the water—guaranteed to bring long life and excellent results in your studies! (BTW, the photo above is of Kiyomizudera.)
The last leg was a bus ride back to Kyoto Station—a huge building complex with something like three shopping centers, a hotel, numerous restaurants, a rooftop garden with incredible city views—oh yeah, and the trains like the Shinkansen. I can see why it was so controversial—it’s like something right out of a sci-fi movie—but the architecture is nevertheless fascinating and impressive. It was then a short subway ride back to Kitaoji shopping center (where we bought groceries the other day). I bought a few necessities and we had dinner at a small Italian Cafe of all places—but the food was good and inexpensive, since we don’t get dinner in the cafeteria on Sundays. A bus ride back to campus and then a long-awaited shower!
It was a pretty strenuous day, but my first real glimpse at the amazing riches this city has to offer. Tomorrow we actually get down to the business of studying Japanese.