Kyoto (Part Two)

To Recap: In May, 2012 I went to Asia on the “Three-Countries-Three-Weeks-Three-Kids” tour. The first stop on this once-in-a-lifetime trip was Shanghai, followed by several days in Seoul. Now I was footloose and fancy-free (i.e., lost a lot) in Kyoto, Japan.

As I mentioned last time, in Shanghai and Seoul I was shown around town most of the time by my daughter or my son. In Kyoto, my daughter was in school during most of the day, so I was out on my own, figuring it out as I went along. As long as you don’t have a strict timetable or an appointment to get to, you don’t get mugged (relatively low odds), and you don’t get arrested (probably even lower odds) this is known as fun.

It was a drizzly day, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. After an “interesting” breakfast at the hotel (again, I declined the “Western” breakfast and took the “local” one, which was most certainly not Cheerios, eggs, and toast, but was nonetheless tasty) I went across the street to Kyoto Station and go on the train to head out toward the landmark shrine that I wanted to see.

IMG_0785_smallThis wasn’t the shrine I was expecting. It’s a great example of how every single vacant lot in the country has something growing on it. However, I had been expecting to be across the street from the entrance, and this wasn’t it. I could have gone back down into the station to figure out where I had gone wrong, get on another train, and gotten to the correct place that way — but where’s the fun? I was pretty sure that I was close, maybe I had just gotten off one exit early. It’s, let’s see, over that way I think. Right? What could go wrong? I started walking.

IMG_0804_smallAt least I had finally found a main street. I think. At a minimum, there weren’t any crops growing here. So I headed down this way, under that bridge. At that building you see at the end of the street about two blocks down I finally found a sign for a tiny, local temple, which let me figure out where exactly I was. Then I walked back down this street to where I took this picture toward my goal, which was a mile or so behind me.

IMG_1290_smallWhile wandering aimlessly, I simply love the different streetscapes and common scenes that are at once both familiar and totally unfamilier. (Remember the laundry poles hanging out over the street in Shanhgai?) Power lines and telephone lines? Totally normal — except that they’re strung like a huge spider web, the sidewalks are tiny, the cars are on the wrong side of the street, and all of the signs are using an alphabet you can’t read. Lovely!

IMG_1291_smallAt last, I’m at least getting closer, and I’m getting the scenic tour of everyday Kyoto. If it would drizzle just a little bit less, we would be golden.

IMG_0808_smallI found the train station I had been expecting! Or rather, I found two train stations, about a block apart, on two different train lines. The one across the street from the shrine is on the JR Nara Line. The one just down the street and on the other side of the river is on the Keihan Electric Railway.

Remember I had said when I came into the country and had to get from Osaka to Kyoto, I didn’t understand there were multiple train companies on multiple lines and their systems and fares were not interchangeable? This would be where I figured that out, the hard way. On the train I had gotten on at Kyoto Station (apparently on the Keihan line), I either had gotten off at the wrong station (and then walked the wrong way for a while) or I should have gone up a station or two and changed trains on that line to get back to here. Or I should have just taken a  JR Nara train at Kyoto Station.

Who knew? Not a mistake I would make again, now that I had earned my wisdom through experience. (Fun!)

IMG_0811_smallI had spent about 1:45 walking around to find the shrine (the tour book said it was five minutes away from Kyoto Station on the JR Nara line), but it was all good. (How many other tourists get to see that cabbage patch or those two busy streets?) This was the street that I had been told about leading up to the shrine’s entrance, but most of the shops were closed. But there were still vending machines everywhere! That red arch at the end of the street, a torii gate is an excellent sign.

IMG_0810_smallIf you’ve not been fortunate enough to yet travel to foreign lands with languages you neither speak nor read, fear not. Book that flight! This is typical of what you see when you travel and how you get around and figure it out. A map is a map, especially since most touristy maps will have pictures. When in doubt, it’s probably safe to assume that that red note with an arrow at the center bottom is Japanese for “You Are Here.” Look around, compare what you see to what’s on the map, and it’s pretty clear that the two green blocks next to it and below it are the train station.

It’s nice to see that they have “WC” symbols clearly marked — for Americans, that means “water closet”, i.e., a bathroom. Just don’t expect a Western-style bathroom. More on that in a later post.

It turned out I was actually at the small entry gate just to the left of the main gate. But I was here!

IMG_0817_smallFushimi Inari-taisha is the primary shrine of Inari Okami, the primary kami (Shinto spirit) of fertility, rice, saki, and agriculture. Often depicted as a fox, both/either male and/or female, Inari is usually depicted as a pair of foxes (one male, one female) with symbols of prosperity (such as a shock of wheat) in their mouth. The vermillion torii gate is a symbol of Inari and what makes this site so incredibly spectacular.

(Fair warning — “Kyoto (Part Three)” through “Kyoto (Part Eight)” over the next two months will be from Fushimi Inari, with the other sights of Kyoto to follow afterward. I found Fushimi Inari to be on a par with the Grand Canyon for its beauty and atmosphere. And took a LOT of pictures, accordingly.)

IMG_0829_smallThe main temple, which is at the base of Inari Mountain. Flanking the steps you can see two fox statues, each wearing red yodarekake (votive bibs or neck scarves). As you can see in the map above, this is just the beginning. Now that I had found it, there was much to see and explore here.

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