Days and Nights in the Forest

15 01 2009

Steps leading up into the hills around Yoshida Shrine.

Steps leading up into the hills around Yoshida Shrine.

My days have been extremely busy in just the couple of days since I last posted. In that time, I’ve eaten exotic dishes, explored historic wonders, tried to consume plain yogurt, been yelled at by school children, and nearly run into homeless Japanese hill people. I’ll start from Tuesday (your Monday).

This was the best picture of snowfall I've been able to get so far. I thought it was beautiful, until I realized it effectively ended the day's hope of drying my clothes outside. Then they froze overnight. My pants are still defrosting in the sink.

This was the best picture of snowfall I've been able to get so far. I thought it was beautiful, until I realized it effectively ended the day's hope of drying my clothes outside. Then they froze overnight. My pants are still defrosting in the sink.

A welcome luncheon ended at shortly after one, so I decided to apply for my (deep breath) gaikokujin toroku genpyou kisai jikou shoumeishou, which foreigners in Japan are required to obtain if they’re staying in the country for more than three months. On the way there, I heard shouting and looked up to see an a classroom full of elementary school children screaming random phrases of English, from “hello”‘s to short self introductions, at me. It was bizarre, and the best thing I could think of to do was to keep walking while giving them the middle finger. Actually, I just said “hello” and “goodbye” like a huge dork. On my way back from applying for my (deep brea- ah, screw it) I decided to investigate a side path close to my apartment. To my surprise, I found another shrine, the Yoshida Shrine, tucked away in the hills behind Kyoto University.

The gist of Yoshida Shrine.

The gist of Yoshida Shrine.

A quite area of the shrine.

A quiet area of the shrine.

Yoshida Shrine on a weekend was pleasantly relaxed, except for a few more school children, who luckily did not start shouting at me when they saw me. My curiosity piqued by my unexpected discovery, I proceed over the hill and found another Kyoto suburb on the other side. This really shouldn’t have been a surprise- I’ve seen streets stretching past the hills- but it felt strange to emerge from the hills only to find more city.

The suburbs behind Yoshida Shrine, and also the "dai" mountain (the character written on the mountain).

The suburbs behind Yoshida Shrine, and also the "dai" mountain (the character written on said mountain).

I proceeded through the city until I reached the hills once again, and found some signs that said Ginkakuji, one of Kyoto’s most famous temples (Google it), was near. Unperturbed by the intermittent snow and rain, I marched on to Ginkakuji, my will refusing to bend to the elements or my repeated failures to actually locate the temple. Said will gave away pretty quick when I saw this, though:

Ginkakuji sign, Kyoto, 1/13/2009

Unfortunately, the entrance fee of 300 yen was above my threshold for paying for the privilege of seeing construction works. I abandoned my plans and proceeded back to my apartment. Hiking again in the hills, I decided to proceed slightly off the beaten path (and, uh, over and under a few bamboo gates and blockades) in an effort to find a shortcut. Towards the top of the hill, I wandered into an area with a few shacks and some sort of ramshackle structure consisting of gathered debris and stretched taut tarps. From the lines (power? water?) running on the ground I intuited that someone lived here, and that the bamboo gates previously may have been for my protection, but perhaps not for the reason I was thinking. While I would like to experience many aspects of Japanese culture, the thought of encountering some Japanese prominence dwelling tatterdemalion inspired a sufficient enough degree of horripilation to inspire a quick, photo-less exit from the area. I ended the day at home where I made the ill fated choice to hang my clothes out to dry overnight. This was stupid.

I didn't take any pictures of my frozen clothes (you could of carried water in some of my pants), but here essentially my whole apartment. Not in the picture if my bathroom.

I didn't take any pictures of my frozen clothes (they pretty firmly frozen to my balcony for awhile), but here's essentially my whole apartment. Not in the picture is my bathroom.

On Wednesday I went for my first day of classes, which were intense but ultimately entertaining and enlightening. As a further ice breaker for previous and current semester students in the KCJS program, groups of five went on a scavenger hunt. My groups goal was to investigate the Kiyomizudera, or Pure Water Temple, near Yasaka Shrine. Kiyomizudera is famous for both its all wood construction and being one of the oldest buildings in Kyoto and Japan as a whole. No nails were used in its construction.

The front gate of Kiyomizudera.

The front gate of Kiyomizudera.

More Kiyomizudera.

More Kiyomizudera.

While the area is supposed to be truly spectacular in April, when the cherry blossoms bloom, or Fall, when the leaves change color, it had its own charm even in the depth of Winter. Frigorific, however. (I swear that's a word, and an awesome one a that.)

While the area is supposed to be truly spectacular in April, when the cherry blossoms bloom, or Fall, when the leaves change color, it had its own charm even in the depth of Winter. Frigorific, however. (I swear that's a word, and an awesome one at that.)

Kiyomizudera is especially famous for its many love fortunes and good-luck charms. Hopeful singles and I suppose fearful couples can do everything from buying overpriced charms to rubbing a statue’s belly. Or they can try the famous love stone.

The picture speaks for itself, really.

The picture speaks for itself, really.

Legend has it that if you can walk from one stone to another with your eyes closed (a distance of about fifteen yards) your hopes will be granted. Or you’ll miss the stone and fall down the nearby stairs.

The stone, in person. I could hardly believe I was actually allowed to touch "the famouse love stone".

The stone, in person. I could hardly believe I was actually allowed to touch "the famous love stone".

the pile of injured people at the bottom of the stairs.

Not pictured: the pile of injured people at the bottom of the stairs.

Or instead of stumbling around like an idiot, you could rub the statue in the lower right's head and be granted your wish.

Or instead of stumbling around like an idiot, you could rub the statue in the lower right's head and be granted your wish.

A small sampling of love charms- there were quite a few more.

A small sampling of love charms- there were quite a few more.

Roku Jizo- six Jizo statues together. Jizo is the Japanese name for the Buddhist deity Ksitgarbha, believed in Japan to be a protector of children both living and dead.

Roku Jizo- six Jizo statues together. Jizo is the Japanese name for the Buddhist deity Ksitgarbha, believed in Japan to be a protector of children both living and dead.

Finally leaving the temple, we proceeded to our final destination: restaurant Ganko Takasegawa Nijoen. Located in a mansion that’s held housed everyone from conquering generals to the former head of the Bank of Japan (who admittedly was known for sending thousands of his men to their death) the building is currently the home of entrepreneur Ganko’s latest restaurant venture. You can see a sample of the panoply of exquisite dishes available at the restaurant here. I believe we all had the Miyabi course of the Kaiseki cuisine. At 7,000 yen per person without tax… well, I understand where our money for the program went now, I suppose. While I didn’t know what half of what I was eating was, it was all incredibly delicious, with some of the best fish I’ve ever eaten. Even the mystery items, from xanthous cubes to heretofore unseen vegetables were satisfying. The restaurant’s grounds we’re equally impressive, avoiding the chichi draping most current restaurants fall prey to in favor of simple beauty. Which makes me really regret that all of my photos were terrible.

I think my rate of posts is going to drop slightly as my classes get into full swing. My Japanese classes alone are going to be intense- ten kanji and four grammar patterns a day. I’ll try and post every week or so, though. If you want to pray for me, I know a few temples and shrines now, and cold probably recommend a good one. Here’s another shot of Yoshida Shrine:

Yoshida Shrine inner, Kyoto, 1/13/2009

Music I’m Listening to Now: (I thought it might be interesting to record all the music I’m listening to throughout the semester. No doubt one day I’ll look back and laugh) M.I.A., “Big Branch”

(Oh, and plain yogurt? Cheap, but tastes like hell.)

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