Kyoto with a Local12 June 2015
In the autumn of 2014 I got on a train from Osaka to Kyoto to meet Rika. I had never met Rika before but when I got a message from her on couchsurfing.com, offering to host me for a day in Kyoto, I decided to take a chance. She was new to the site and had no reviews so I was wary of what kind of experience I was in for.
Rika, however, did not disappoint! She spent the whole day with me showing me around her home town and finding lots of food along the way!
First on our itinerary was a visited to Byodo-In temple, or Phoenix Hall. This Buddhist temple was owned by one of the greatest clans in Japanese history, the Fujiwaras. I was particularly interested in visiting this temple because of the replica in Hawaii. I was curious to see, how similar were they?
To my surprise I found the actual Byodo-In temple to be less grand than the one in Hawaii. Maybe the enormous, green mountains surrounding the Hawaii temple make it seem so much more awe inspiring that when I came to finally see the real, 1000-year-old temple, it was just kind of meh.
After walking around the grounds of the temple, Rika pointed out that we were right next to a pedestrian street known for foods made from green tea so we headed over to sample some. We started with green tea dango (glutinous rice balls) and then for lunch we had green tea soba (buckwheat noodles) with sweet fish. We finished with a dessert of green tea ice cream.
(Might I add, I typically hate green tea flavored things unless it is a cup of green tea itself but I looooved everything we found along this street.)
Once we finished, we wandered over to Gion, known for being the geisha district of town. We didn't see any real geisha but we did see lots of Japanese tourists dressed up in costume, enjoying the "geisha experience". It made me wonder how many western tourists had excitedly snapped pictures of these girls thinking they had gotten a picture of a real geisha when in fact it was just a tourist renting a kimono!
In Gion, Rika pointed out lots of other interesting things I would not have learned on my own; like the fact that each district is distinguished by the pattern on the lanterns they hang in front of their door. She also knew where all the stores with free samples were so we could munch on mochi and sip green tea as we walked around the district chatting about girl stuff.
In Gion we came to Yasaka Shrine where Japanese royalty would come to pray over 1300 years ago. This is where Rika taught me how to pray according to Shinto tradition. First one must cleanse oneself at the fountain by taking a ladle of water and pouring over your left hand, then your right hand, and then use your left hand to put some water in your mouth which you spit out. Pour the rest of the water over the ladle itself and place it back.
Once you're cleansed you can approach the main shrine and (typically) offer a coin. Shake the cord to the bell a couple times then bow and clap twice. After clapping, your hands are already in the perfect position to start praying. When you finish your prayer bow and you're done!
I felt a little weird the first time since ringing the bell makes such a racket but Rika encouraged me to ring harder so the gods would hear!
Kyoto, being thousands of years old and once the capital of Japan, is smothered in temples. With Rika guiding me, however, I was able to narrow my list down to the ones she felt were the most significant. I ended up skipping the gold temple, silver temple, Buddhist rock gardens, and the moss garden temples, which in retrospect would have been lovely pictures but not much else.
Rika weaved the streets and alleys and brought me to the Buddhist temple, Kiyomizu-dera. This temple has some of the most unique architecture I have ever seen in Japan and resembled a stage or theater.
At the base of Kiyomizu-dera are three natural springs which one can drink from. Each spring has a specific "power" and while waiting in line it was clear to see what each spring was for based on the people who drank from it.
The far left was clearly for good grades as young students were picking this spring. The middle was for luck in love and it seemed that only 20-somethings were drinking from this water. To the right was the spring for good health which was visited by older guests.
Rika, following the pattern, picked the love spring. I was having some feminine issues at the time so I chose the one for good health. It may be just coincidence but the next day my malady cleared up!
In the evening we passed the night in traditional Japanese style with booze. Rika introduced me to 100-yen bars where everything is literally 100 yen (about 1 US dollar). After several beers and some fried chicken cartilage Rika decided she wanted to take me out to a proper dinner where I then encountered the infamous shirako.
In the morning I set out to see one more temple. I was well on my way to temple overload but this one was just to iconic to pass up: Fushimi Inari or the Thousand Torii Shrine.
The shrine is literally made of thousands of torii (red wooden gates) winding up the side of a forested mountain. Though it is severely crowded with people, patience will reward you with a picture sans tourists.
What would you visit with 24 hours in Kyoto?