Miyajima Now Redux

30 03 2009

View from Miyajima 1, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

For our KCJS class trip, I and about forty other students made the journey by Shinkansen to Hiroshima and then once again (for me, at least) to Miyajima. Initially, I was worried that a return trip to Miyajima would be pleasant if slightly underwhelming in light of my previous visit there, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had missed a major part of the island: the path leading to the absolute highest peak. The views from above were spectacular. I hate to resort to hyperbole again so soon after the last Miyajima post, but the view from the top of Miyajima is probably the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Also, Spring has arrived in Japan, and the sakura (cherry blossoms) are blooming across the country. The streets and thoroughfares of Miyajima and Hiroshima were dotted with vivid splashes of pink and white.

Warning: lots of nature pictures to follow.

Warning: lots of nature pictures to follow.

Sakura 2, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Sakura 3, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Sakura 4, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Sakura 5, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Sakura 6, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Sakura 7, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Sakura 8, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

Due to peer pressure I elected this time to take the ropeway, but I didn’t regret it. The ride is disappointingly short for 900 yen, but the scenery is nothing to scoff at, though this is one area where I think New Mexico and the Sandia Tramway could give Japan a run for its money (and in terms of total length, the tramway trumps all trams in totality).

The ride was less fun for the more heights-averse people in the car.

The ride was less fun for the more heights-averse people in the car.

Tram 2, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

Unfortunately, before I saw all of this beautiful scenery, I ran into… a bit of trouble. Our Shinkansen was scheduled to leave at 9:52 a.m. (and if you know Japanese train schedules, you know that’s 9:52 sharp) and I made a number of mistakes, from underestimating the time to get there to going to the wrong Imadegawa station (apparently, there’s a JR one and a Keihan one). After frantically trying to find track 14 and exchanging some barely understandable Japanese with a station attendant, I emerged onto the platform right as… the clock struck 9:54, and I saw the train receding into the distance. Thankfully, I was able to grab the train immediately after and then take a train to Miyajimaguchi the same way I did during my Spring break. It was slightly embarrassing being the only student dumb enough to miss the train, but everyone seemed impressed when I told them I got there by myself. The Japanese train system seems pretty intuitive to me, though.

Another surprise was waiting for me at the peak besides the amazing view- monkeys. Monkeys, with temperates common to the deer that pepper the island, surrounded the tram station, hooting, running back and forth, and picking bugs out of the fur of each other and annoyed deers.

Though the monkey population far exceeded my expectations, the first hint at their presence was an English voice on the tram warning passengers to stow their valuable away from the curious eyes of the sticky-handed monkeys.

Though the monkey population far exceeded my expectations, the first hint at their presence was an English voice on the tram warning passengers to stow their valuable away from the curious eyes of the sticky-handed simians.

Monkeys, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Monkeys 3, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

Monkeys 4, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Monkeys 5, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Monkeys 6, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

Now, as for the view…

View 1, Miyajima, 3/27/2009View 2, Miyajima, 3/27/2009View 3, Miyajima, 3/27/2009View 4, Miyajima, 3/27/2009View 5, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

A temple near the top hosted the “Eternal Flame”, a fire that has supposedly been continuously burning for over 1200 years and was used to light the peace fire at Hiroshima. It… left something to be desired.

It wasn't so much "the eternal fire" as it was "the eternal lightly glowing cinder pile".

It wasn't so much "the eternal fire" as it was "the eternal lightly glowing cinder pile".

Apparently the deer near the top are friendly (or desperately hungry) as one wandered up to me as I was sitting down.

Deer 1, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Deer 2, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

Near the top was a tiny shrine based in a niche in the mountain.

This tiny, tiny shrine was used for tiny, tiny worshp by the tiny, tiny citizens of the island.

This tiny, tiny shrine was used for tiny, tiny worshp by the tiny, tiny citizens of the island.

At last, after an hour of hiking form the top of the ropeway and a short trip up an observation tower, I reached the highest point on Miyajima and surveyed my surroundings.

View 3, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

I sure hope no one's viewing this on dial-up. But if you are, what's wrong with you?

I sure hope no one is viewing this on dial-up. But if you are, what's wrong with you?

View 8, Miyajima, 3/27/2009View 9, Miyajima, 3/27/2009View 10, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

The ropeway station.

The ropeway station.

View 12, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

Hell, even the view from our ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn) wasn’t bad.

Ryokan View 1, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Ryokan View 2, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

For whatever reason, taking pictures of the actual ryokan completely slipped my mind. It was a fun experience- we were put into groups of four to six in traditional Japanese rooms, complete with tatami mats and just futons for sleeping, and provided with yukata, a sort of light cotton kimono, to wear. We had a traditional Japanese dinner with a wide variety of dishes, from prepared fish to a sort of tofu soup to a plate of delicious strawberries for desert, all with tasty if weak beer on the side. Sadly, sitting Japanese style in the seiza position (with your legs bent under you) is beyond my abilities as a gaijin, so I sat cross-legged and tried desperately to avoid exposing myself. After dinner we went out and view the famous torii (as seen in my last Miyajima post) in the dark, but unfortunately there wasn’t enough light for me to get a picture that didn’t look like it was taken from inside a trunk.

We departed in the early morning for Hiroshima, and I took several pictures of the blooming foliage surrounding the temples and shrines.

Island view 1, Miyajima, 3/27/2009Island view 2, Miyajima, 3/27/2009

Ze ever-hungry sea.

Ze ever-hungry sea.


One more shot of the torii, for old times sake.

One more shot of the torii, for old times sake.

We then took a bus to Hiroshima, which was also a bit of a photographic non-event. Our first stop was the Atomic Bomb Memorial, which has an atmosphere not terribly conducive to photography. The memorial is much like any memorial, such as for the Holocaust or Vietnam: an experience that is equal parts moving and horrifying. It’s hard to walk away from a museum that includes graphic pictures of still-living female high school students burned so badly they’re hardly recognizable as human beings, or recounts the story of a young girl inflicted with radiation-induced leukemia years after the bombing and her subsequent desperate attempt to fold a thousand paper cranes so that her wish would be granted and she could live, and feel that it was in any way a “pleasant” experience. Nevertheless, Hiroshima should be a necessary trip for anyone going to Japan, and anyone whose ever seriously considered just “nuking them all”. A little bit of contemplation on horrific suffering has a way of putting things in perspective. I did take a picture of the Atomic Bomb Dome, a building nearly at the hypocenter of the explosion that somehow structurally survived the explosion that utterly demolished all buildings around it for thousands of feet, thought it was gutted by fire. On the left are some picnickers, enjoying the weather and the view of the river outside the memorial.

Atomic Bomb Dome, Hiroshima, 3/28/2009

Music I’m Listening to Now: Lotus Plaza, “The Floodlight Collective”.

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Stuck Between Stations

13 03 2009

Tracks, Iwakuni(?), 3/5/2009

And thus we reach the last part of my travel post trilogy, which much like most trilogies had little indication of the fact in its genesis and will also likely be a disappointment. For my final major stop, I went to Tsuwano, a relatively isolated hamlet in the mountains at one of the further ends of the Western Honshu archipelago. Tsuwano touts itself as a sort of ‘Lil Kyoto, a even more traditional and rustic alternative to the culturally rich vein the larger Kyoto possesses. To which I say, eh, kind of.

Tsuwano view 1, Tsuwano, 3/5/2009

Perhaps it was the weather (distinctly overcast) or the hype (my guidebook made Tsuwano seem like the second coming of Christ), but I have to admit I found Tsuwano slightly disappointing. It had some nice areas, which I tried to photograph as much as possible with my rapidly dying camera, but overall if felt distinctly average and more than a little boring- a bit of a come down after Miyajima. Still way better than Albuquerque, though.

Gate, Tsuwano, 3/5/2009

Miyajima featured one prominent shrine that I saw situated on towards the top of a large mountain. The many torii leading from the back portion of the temple was a definite highlight.

Shrine 1, Tsuwano, 3/5/2009Shrine 2, Tsuwano, 3/5/2009Shrine 3, Tsuwano, 3/5/2009

There's hundreds of these small gates lining the path all the way down the mountain.

There's hundreds of these small gates lining the path all the way down the mountain.

Huh. Doesn't look particularly overcast here.

Huh. Doesn't look particularly overcast here.

Sadly, my vacation  ended on a bit of a down note. I had planned to get back to Kyoto late Thursday night, but as I mentioned in a previous I was informed when I reached Tottori that I had missed the last train. The only reason it wasn’t completely miserable was that the air temperature was relatively warm, but the incredibly strong winds (I heard some rather large things being blown over) took care of the rest. Crouching in a underground walkway, desperately huddling against my laptop for warmth was admittedly not the funnest experience in my life, but I did meet a really nice guy when I took shelter at the post office. I had a pretty long conversation with him, and he actually stopped by later and bought me a drink. The human brain is a wonderful and terrible thing in that my vacation, warts and all, is quickly being reduced to similar highlights. Freezing a little bit is a fair trade-off between gorgeous scenery and friendly conversation, right? Right?

Music I’m Listening to Now: The Hold Steady (obviously), “Ask Her For Adderall”.





Myriad Harbour

10 03 2009

Miyajima tori, tide out, Miyajimaguchi, 3/4/2009

If Himeji and it’s white castle were a case of a monument’s inherent beauty overcoming poor weather, Miyajima was an example of both nature and locale combining to form a perfect tableau. Miyajima is in my admittedly mostly uninformed opinion up with Nara in the upper echelons of beauty in Japan. Both the day and the island were in perfect condition, and my expectations were both met and exceeded. The addition of a number of surprises helped push Miyajima over the edge to make it the highlight my vacation. If you ever get a chance, I highly recommend going.

Boat View 1, Miyajimaguchi, 3/4/2009

Miyajima is reached from the mainland by taking a short ferry ride from a dock conveniently close to the station. My experience with the town (called Miyajimaguchi) in the evening when I finally left the island leads me to believe it’s essentially an elaborate decoration for the island proper; there wasn’t a whole lot going on.

Both JR (Japan Railways) and a private company run ferries; there's no meaningful difference between the two, as far as I know, but those with Japan rail passes can ride the JR one for free.

Both JR (Japan Railways) and a private company run ferries; there's no meaningful difference between the two, as far as I know, but those with Japan rail passes can ride the JR one for free.

My first big surprise upon arriving: deer. I had honestly assumed that Nara was the place to go for deer in Japan and had no idea that there were deer on Miyajima. There were deer, alright.

Deer 1, Miyajimaguchi, 3/4/2009Deer 2, Miyajimaguchi, 3/4/2009Deer 3, Miyajimaguchi, 3/4/2009

A young deer.

A young deer.

It feels a little weird to say this, but Miyajima’s deer seemed to lack… a certain something. Nara’s deer were already straining the use of the word “dignified”, and their more tropical kin had gone a bit further to seed. It’s hard to feel the holy aura ascribed to deer by the Japanese when they’re constantly doing this:

Unlike flying or camouflage, this is one of those animal skills that has never even occurred to me to be worth being envious about.

Unlike flying or camouflage, this is one of those animal skills that has never even occurred to me to be worth being envious about.

Also, much like the deer in Nara, being sacred beings doesn’t prevent them from, goat-like, consuming much of what they can physically ingest.

Deer 6, Miyajimaguchi, 3/4/2009

It's all fun and games until you realize they're eating your passport.

It's all fun and games until you realize they're eating your passport.

Of course, there was more to Miyajima than practically domesticated, de-antlered (though, uh, steadily more antlered the further inland you go) freeloaders.

Statue, Miyajimaguchi, 3/4/2009

One of Miyajima’s best known landmarks is the giant red torii, or gate, built on the coastal plane of the island’s landward side. The view, as you can see in this entry’s first picture, can change dynamically depending on the time of day and the corresponding tide.

Torii 1, Miyajima, 3/4/2009

I have no idea how they build stuff like this in water; water bridges similarly confuse me. In the gate's case, I guess you just had to do it fast, before the tide came back in.

I have no idea how they build stuff like this in water; water bridges similarly confuse me. In the gate's case, I guess you just had to do it fast, before the tide came back in.

Looking out on the gate was a shrine that I was unwilling to pay the entrance fee to get into (I think the ferry fee should be enough, damn it) so here are some pictures at a distance.

Torii Shrine, Miyajima, 3/3/2009

The shrine was built with a number of interesting architectural features to avoid damge from storms, including sections of the flooring that can float freely in case of an especially high tide.

The shrine was built with a number of interesting architectural features to avoid damge from storms, including sections of the flooring that can float freely in case of an especially high tide (or so I read on the outside).

Here's the shrine with the tide out.

Here's the shrine with the tide out.

Similarly impressive landmarks dotted Miyajima.

Pagoda 1, Miyajima, 3/4/2009

Too big to be contained in one photo.

Too big to be contained in one photo.

A big 'ol chunk of wood.

A big 'ol chunk of wood.

Random Temple 1, Miyajima, 3/4/2009Random Temple 2, Miyajima, 3/4/2009

After some walking uphill, I discovered an impressive temple that was luckily free of charge.

Their logo is some sort of medieval rattle.

Their logo is some sort of medieval rattle.

Temple 2, Miyajima, 3/4/2009

The return of the Tanuki, this time as a Buddhist monk. Notice the absence of the exaggerated testicles.

The return of the Tanuki, this time as a Buddhist monk. Notice the absence of the exaggerated testicles.

Temple 3, Miyajima, 3/4/2009Temple 4, Miyajima, 3/4/2009

I really like the way the wood is designed underneath the roof.

I really like the way the wood is designed underneath the roof.

Eventually, I got an idea into my head that I could walk around the island to see the landmarks on the backside. After proceeding through several tunnels…

Tunnel, Miyajima, 3/4/2009

long, deserted roads…

Road, Miyajima, 3/4/2009

and several miles of surprisingly clear ocean…

Water, Miyajima, 3/4/2009

I realized I had perhaps underestimated the distance. I decided to rest on a quite beach for a bit before turning around.

This section of the island was amazingly quiet, and at this point I hadn't seen another human for about an hour.

This section of the island was amazingly quiet, and at this point I hadn't seen another human for about an hour.

Looking down, I realizd the white dotting the beach was thousands of sea shells.

Looking down, I realizd the white dotting the beach was thousands of sea shells.

Returning to the more inhabited regions of the island, I decided to go up this time. Miyajima is the site of one of the World Heritage Sites, in this case a stretch of forest that has gone essentially undisturbed since antiquity.

There was a tram that could take you over the forest that seemed like it would be nice, but the ticket was 2000 yen. Half that for one way, but you had to jump out yourself.

There was a tram that could take you over the forest that seemed like it would be nice, but the ticket was 2000 yen. Half that for one way, but you had to jump out yourself.

I also did a little bit of off-the-path hiking.

I also did a little bit of off-the-path hiking.

Proceeding up some narrow paths, I reached the most scenic views available on the island. Though I once again was humiliated by a woman in at least her seventies who somehow managed to pass me going the opposite direction while I was going up, and then pass me again as I went down on the other side. Christ.

Path, Miyajima, 3/4/2009View, Miyajima, 3/4/2009

I think this is my favorite picture that I've ever taken.

I think this is my favorite picture that I've ever taken.

Music I’m Listening to Now: Flight of the Conchords, “We’re Both In Love With a Sexy Lady”.





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.)





Testament To Youth In Verse

12 01 2009

Willow tree on the Yasaka Shrine grounds.

Willow tree on the Yasaka Shrine grounds.

Today was a national holiday in Japan. The second Monday of January is 成人の日, or Coming-of-Age Day, which celebrates everyone who turned twenty during the previous year. Twenty is the age one finally becomes an adult in Japan (at least ceremonially), and the important year is marked with a special word for the age, hatachi. Classes don’t start until tomorrow, so to pass the time I walked down into Gion, probably most best known for being the geisha capital of the world. I actually saw a geisha in full makeup on my first day in Kyoto, but my camera didn’t have any batteries (and I doubt I would have had the guts to take a picture of a stranger on the street even if I could). I spent most of my time wandering around the Yasaka Shrine.

Ema are wooden tablets that traditionally have wishes or hopes written on them and are then hung in the shrine grounds.

Ema are wooden tablets that traditionally have wishes or hopes written on them and are then hung in the shrine grounds.

The relation between religion and the Japanese people is something I still barely understand, but they sure do make some pretty shrines. The proliferation of the color white and the few shrine maidens roaming the grounds marks this as a Shinto shrine. Shinto might be considered the native religion of Japan and a form of naturalism.

These stone lions are considered a type of guardian against evil spirits, and are a very common motif in shrines throughout Japan.

These stone lions are considered a type of guardian against evil spirits, and are a very common motif in shrines throughout Japan.

Thanks to the holiday today, the shrine had a festival atmosphere, which extended to multiple booths dotting the grounds. Also offered were omikuji, a type of fortune telling. For a small fee you receive a strip of paper that has any amount of luck from great luck, 大吉, to great curse, 大凶, as well as some specific fortune telling relating to matters from business to pregnancy. When you receive bad luck, it”s custom to tie the paper to either a tree (traditionally a pine)

Is this a pine? I don't know trees.

Is this a pine? I don't know trees.

to whatever else is available.

Yasaka Shrine Tied Omikujis, Kyoto - 1/12/2009

Proceeding further into the shrine grounds I stumbled upon a large graveyard.

A lower view of the graveyard at the Yasaka Shrine.

A lower view of the graveyard at the Yasaka Shrine.

It wasn’t until I reached the upper level (a surprisingly difficult task, as the whole thing was rather confusingly designed) that I understood the full scale of how many people were interred here.

The sun was setting when I took this picture.

The sun was setting when I took this picture.

I think this may be one of the highest points in Kyoto.

I think this may be one of the highest points in Kyoto.

Reaching the top also gave me a great view of the city.

City view from Yasaka Shrine 1, Kyoto - 1/12/2009
City view from Yasaka Shrine 2, Kyoto - 1/12/2009

Due to my current lack of the seasoned photographer’s mix of bravery and shameless, I only took one horrible picture of some kimono-clad revelers. I think the picture gives an accurate impression of how the younger generation treats them, however- more prom dress than the ceremonial garb many view them as.

Gion Coming-of-Age'ers, Kyoto - 1/12/2009

I’ll end this post with one of my favorite natural (or is it) sights in Kyoto so far.

The striking contrast of this tree and its surrounding leads me to suspect it was planned; this sort of strategic use of nature is used to great effect in locations throughout Japan.

The striking contrast of this tree and its surrounding leads me to suspect it was planned; this sort of strategic use of nature is used to great effect in locations throughout Japan.