The Witless Clunkery of a Third-Rate Mind

Monday, April 09, 2012

Kyoto Trip - Part 1

I was fortunate to have the whole month of March off. The problem is that, when you have a lot of time off, there's not really any urgency to get anything done. Before you know it, 2 weeks have slipped by and you haven't done anything or gone anywhere. So, at some point in mid-march, I woke up and just decided to go to Kyoto. I went online and booked a hotel, then hopped on the bullet train and went. It was a fantastic trip, for a lot of reasons.

One was the ease with which I went there. About 2 hours by bullet train, and I was there. I suppose I was also lucky to find a good hotel so easily. I booked online without investigating things much at all. My friends recommended a hotel, I booked it, and it turned out to be great - cheap, clean, comfortable, and central. (The 4 C's!) And, lucky me, I got upgraded to a double for free. So that worked out well.

I arrived in the evening and by that time, it was too dark to do sightseeing. I picked a restaurant from a guide they had in my room. It was supposed to be recommended, but on what basis, I have no idea; probably because the restaurant had paid to be included in the guide. The food was ... well, here's a shot I took of the menu.

I left there and went strolling into the bar area of town. I eventually found a very small bar with large glass windows in front, lined with shelves displaying dozens of different kinds of sake and shochu (Japanese vodka). That looked like what I was after so I went in, and was immediately greeted by the other patrons. This was to be a theme of my trip: the friendliness of Kyoto people! We got to talking and I quickly felt like I was befriended by this group of strangers. It doesn't sound like much, I know, but when you are in a strange city, it means everything to be welcomed and treated like an old friend.

I don't even know the name of that bar, nor do I remember the names of the people I met there. I would like to send them a postcard from Tokyo, thanking them for their kindness, but I'm not sure how.

I went back home feeling very good, and woke up early the next morning for a full day of sightseeing. Day 2 was going to feature temples on the east side of Kyoto station. I started with Tofuku-ji. According to the pamphlet I received, and Wikipedia:

Founded in 1236, Tofuku-ji is (one of?) the main Rinzai-sect Zen temple(s) in Japan. It has maintained its Zen architecture since the middle ages, and boasts a wealth of medieval Zen artifacts, including a rarely-seen image of Buddha on his death bed.

Tofuku-ji isn't one of the most famous temples in Kyoto, and as it was only 10 a.m. on a weekday, the place was almost deserted. Perfect for pictures!

I don't know why Tofuku-ji isn't more famous; its rock gardens are better (in my opinion) than the much more famous one at Ryoan-ji, for example. (More on Ryoan-ji later.)

Many temples in Japan have a dragon painted on the ceiling. I took a sneaky shot of the Tofuku-ji dragon ... not sure if I was allowed to do that but ...

The rock garden is one of 4 very interesting and unique gardens surrounding the Abbot's residence. Rock gardens are often meant to evoke islands in water, mountaintops poking up out of cloud banks, or other natural imagery. Sometimes, they are more abstract. In any case, they are designed to lead the viewer into quiet contemplation, which this garden certainly does.

Another garden on the opposite side of the Abbot's residence is this more modern moss garden. I don't know exactly what the gardener had in mind, but one thing that struck me is the strength of nature, held in check by careful and constant pruning and weeding, but suggested in the readiness of the moss to overwhelm and engulf the stone squares.

The main gate is the oldest 3-doored gate in Japan.

I notice that the Japanese are very fond of stating, very specifically, that something is the oldest example of this exact kind of object. It's kind of amusing. They also like making lists (for example "This garden is considered to be one of the top 3 most beautiful gardens in Japan") but it is not always agreed what the other entries are (which means there are sometimes 7 or 8 temples vying for "top 3"). Very Japanese - nobody has to feel bad about being left out.

That brings us to lunchtime on Day 2. My afternoon was a busy one, so I'll make that a separate post.


At 6:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am always amazed at your photography. Your pictures look so professional compared to the standard tourist shots usually seen (including my own).

I like the the "v" sign you're making at the bar, you almost look like a native.

I hope this increase in posting is not too much trouble as I really enjoy reading them.


At 5:12 AM, Blogger Jeff said...

Thanks, Dwarf. For one thing, I have a pretty nice camera (which gets very heavy when lugging it around) and the other thing is that this time, I spent a few minutes tinkering with the photo contrast, colours, exposure, etc. to try and make the pictures look nice. But other times I feel lazy, and don't bother, like my more recent post "Kyoto - Part 2". All of those photos are as they came out of the camera.
Anyway, glad you enjoy reading this stuff!


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