Tuesday, 18 September 2007

京都 二回目 Kyoto a second time

Manu, my friend from Germany who is currently visiting me, definitely wanted to see Kyoto, so I went there a second time. I asked around the new arrivals and Hung Lun from Germany/Singapore decided to come with us. So I followed the old procedure and booked a night bus and a Guest House for us in Kyoto.

連休 Long Weekends

The first thing I noticed is that there appear to be special prices for long weekends (last Monday was a national holiday) for night buses and other things. Apart from that it is hard to get a night bus and a place to stay at on such a weekend, because the whole of Japan seems to be traveling around. Anyway we eventually took a night bus for 4.500 Yen and left 新宿 (Shinjuku) at 23:00 pm after the BBQ party and after we spent some time in the all you can play arcade in 厚木.

ゲストハウス凡 Guest House Bon

Of course I learned from last time, so we did not go to the Cheapest Inn but looked for something else. Alas most was already booked out because of the long weekend, but eventually the proprietor of Guest House Bon replied to me, that we could have a room for three persons for only 2.100 Yen per person, so really incredibly cheap.
And the Guest House was awesome, it is owned by a married couple with a tiny little baby and is completely Japanese 旅館 (Ryokan) style. That means 畳 Tatami mats, 布団 Futon and traditional Japanese bath facilities and toilets. It also includes a kitchen, and free TV and Internet. The owners appear to have been Globetrotters themselves and having experience how hard it is to find a nice cheap place to sleep, want to offer exactly that.
When we were there, we met a couple of really nice guests as well. For example two Japanese Studies students from Hamburg and Frankfurt/Wuerzburg. And one of them, Monika, is even going to my own university in Erlangen, because Wuerzburg and Erlangen's Japanese Studies chair are merged together and is planning to doi her ph.d. there. Apart from them we met a nice guy from the Netherlands, two French guys cycling around Japan and two British Guys doing the same by train. It was a really cozy environment and we spent a lot of hours in the Guest House common room talking to the others.

The rooms have 畳 (Tatami) mats

and you sleep on traditional 布団 (Futon)

金閣寺 Kinkakuji

Our first goal for the first day was the Golden Pavilion, Kinkakuji. Seeing the temple is really impressive and the surrounding gardens are very nice too. But the best part was the Chinese stories Hung Lun could add to certain items in the garden.

For example right above the 金閣寺 itself is a water fall called 龍門滝 (Dragongate Waterfalls). The story to this goes like this: In China people belive(d) that the fish called Liyu, which looks like a dragon because of his beard hairs standing out, at one point of his life is trying to cross the dragon gate 龍門. If he succeeds he turns into a real dragon, just like a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. But the humans know of this and know the location of the gate, so they wait with their nets and catch the fish just before he is able to cross the gate. So the difference between a served fish on a plate and a dragon is really really tiny and you should keep that in mind when eating one.

Afterwards seeing a garden with some ornaments he thought of another Chinese story. The story of the white snake. Once there was a snake hunter, because the testicles of snakes were said to contain great powers of healing. The hunter discovered a wonderful white snake and intended to kill it, but a little boy with a flute watching the snake asked the man:
"Why do you want to kill this wonderful snake? If you spare her life, I will play you a wonderful tune with my flute and you can relax a little bit on this stone listening to my play."
The man agreed and though a rest was a good idea, and thus the life of the snake was spared.
After 1000 years the snake eventually gathered enough power, intelligence and experience about magic to be able to turn itself into a human. So using its magic it did and started searching for the boy that saved her life. Of course humans do not life that long, but Chinese believe(d) in reincarnation, so the snake searched for the reincarnated version of the little boy.
Eventually it found him, married him and became his wife. The snake was a good and caring wife and protected her husband without him knowing that she was in fact a white snake.
One day a great magician fighting evil spirits came along and discovered her secret. Snakes pretending to be human were considered evil spirits, so he fought her using magic and imprisoned her in a magic tower. When the man heard about his wife's true nature he lost all hope about this world, everything even his wife being an illusion and became a monk searching for other worlds. However the two of them had a son, who loved his mother even though she was a white snake. This son became the best graduate of university and was thus allowed to see the Chinese emperor. He asked him one single wish, to release his mother from the tower. And after completing a series of tasks for the emperor the white snake was released eventually. However her husband had become a monk and she had to search for him again.
In the end he accepted her as a white snake and they lived together until their end.

Then the story continued with the adventures of their son, which Hung Lun could not remeber anymore.

金閣寺 Kinkakuji

龍門滝 The Dragon Gate

This reminded Hung Lun of the story of the White Snake

You can find money sacrifices like this very often

銀閣寺 Ginkakuji

After the 金閣寺 we went to its counter part in the east side of the city the 銀閣寺, the silver pavilion. Though being not of actual silver, like the Kinkakuji was of gold, Hung Lun and I came to some interesting results. Both temples were built in the same way, having a pond on the same side and higher level gardens of the others. Also the entrances were apt. Apparently the golden temple represents the aspect of sun, while the silver one is representing the moon. Similar to the global concept of Yin and Yang. So the two temples were actually built to maintain a healthy balance of spiritual power between the east and the west part of the city, with the emperors palace lying in between. Very interesting.
So if you decide to visit one of them, you should visit the other and look for similarities and opposites. Also you should do so to maintain the spiritual power balance within yourself.

銀閣寺 Ginkakuji

A typical Japanese stone garden

Temple gardens sure are wonderful, and they avoid looking too artificial by including nature's own beauty

Handcraft Center
Since both of them were looking for postcards we ended the day with a short visit at the handcraft center I told you about before.

二条城 Nijou Castle

Because Hung Lun forgot his passport at home, we could not enter the Imperial Palace this time, so we decided to visit 二条城, since it was his residence before he moved to the palace after moving there and back again, because of fires.
The Castle is truly worth seeing as you can go inside and visit all the rooms and since they provided 人形 puppets of the people that lived there to illustrate the usage of the rooms. Apart from the wonderful interior the exterior must not hide before the Imperial Palace. It contains really wonderful gardens and nice paths to walk on. Last but not least there is a nice platform where you can see the whole areal.

二条城 Main Gate

And the castle's moat

Secondary Gate

And the wonderful Castle Garden

Me with Manu

And with Hung Lun

Manu really loves cool trees

伏見稲荷大社 Fushimi Inari Shrine

Afterwards we went to the outskirts of 京都 to one of the surrounding mountains where there is a passage made entirely of 通り (Toori). After all the money we payed on sights, we were really glad this one was for free and still totally worth seeing it. This main shrine is dedicated to the Japanese Fox Godess 稲荷 and already the temples and shrines before the passage are wonderful. Manu and I tried a buddhist fortune stick box and it turned out that apparently I am a mystery to the gods. I will tell you more, once I should succeed in translating the fortune.
The 通り passage continues all the way to the mountain top and it takes about 2 hours to complete it. It leads though wonderful awesome forest/mountain nature landscapes and being tight together offers protection from the sun as well. It is a really awesome hike and I can recommend it to everyone...
However you should follow the way as pointed out by the 通り. Because at some point the split up and build a circular path and you theoretically could go either way. However the 通り have writings on both sides indicating, which way you should go through. The correct side has the Kanji receiving and giving to a higher stand person (god / spirit) on them.
What we did and it was my fault for being lightheaded, was challenging the spirit world by passing through the 通り the wrong direction. And indeed only after some couple of meters disharmony spread among our group and Manu said we should have taken the other road and that he has the feeling this road leads to a wrong place. Afterwards the 通り passage suddenly stopped and strange temples consisting entirely of 通り appeared on the sides. Then Hung Lun first lost some money and then his entire wallet (but could pick it up again). The disharmony spread and eventually we agreed that the path was wrong. In the end we passed on single more 通り, which however was broken. We had no choice but to go through it (the middle part was missing), because we could not go around. When we passed the broken 通り, we suddenly were where we started our journey again.
I really felt sorry for lightheartedly choosing to challenge the spirit world, when actually being responsible for two other humans. I will never do this again without thinking and I am glad nothing major happened. However it was a really scary and though fascinating experience.

The entrance to the 伏見稲荷神社 is free

but guarded by an archer

This is the map of the temple, you might see the path out of 通り which goes all the way up to the top pf the hill.

challenging fate

On the one side you can read the names and addresses of the donators

The nature around the path is wonderful

After this temple we followed the wrong path and challenged the spirit world

How does recognize this face?

三十三間堂 Sanjusangendo

Since this was one of the temples I enjoyed most about 京都 last time, I wanted to show it to Manu and Hung Lun. This time we had some more time than, when I was with my parents and could read the signs of all the guardian spirits adapted mostly adapted from Indian deities. Really cool!

Taking pictures was prohibited, I have no idea how this one came on the camera

祇園 Gion

Afterwards we went to the ancient 芸者 (Geisha) district 祇園. This time we were told, that going there at the right time, you are able to actually see 芸者 there. If you are lucky you can see one going to her tea house between 17:00 and 20:00 o'clock. We were and she looked impressive, but alas the camera was not fast enough to capture/banish her eternal spirit in its digital circuits. What was a bit embarrassing for us were all the western foreigners waiting with their camera ready lurking in front of tea houses.
Fat Woman: "The guide says, you can see Geisha here, but we don't. Let's claim our money back!"
Fat Man: "It's all swindle! I told you from the beginning, why did we come here in the first place?"

And another tip, if you really want to make a picture, don't do it like fat woman and fat man above by lurking in the shadows, making quick pictures and hiding your camera again going away. That is really impolite and stupid; just go ahead and ask a 芸者, if she would mind you taking a picture of her. Usually they like what they do and take pride in it (at least in this part of the city, where only the artistic entertainment aspect counts) and don't mind being photographed, as long as you don't see them as caged animals.

The 芸者 Geisha district in 祇園

祇園 at night

ポント Ponto

Manu was hungry, and Hung Lun and I could also need some food. So we decided to search for the cool restaurant I was with my parents at last time, but the hungerr in Manu grew and eventually, we just entered the first restaurant we found, which offered vegetarian food and reasonable prices. After all I am not sure, if I would have been able to find back to that place.

Mandarin Cuisine Restaurant

So we went into a Mandarin Cuisine Restaurant, which was as fake Chinese as Japanese restaurants usually are in Europe. Apart from that it would have been a real Ponto restaurant, where you could have sat above the river side, which we only realized too late, there were some fishy things about it.
For a start you had to pay at least 1.000¥ per person, although the meals we found were around 700¥. However this didn't really matter, since it said, one drink per person is obligatory anyway, and the cheapest drink were 500¥. Not enough there was yet another sign saying: "You have to tip the server!".
Well we were tired and hungry and did not feel like arguing, so we stayed and ordered. However our meals turned out to be mini size, like for gourmets and we did not get served rice, which would have been another 350¥ per small bowl. So we ate our tiny meal and asked for the bill.
"お会計をください" and were astonished yet again. There was another 600¥ on it saying チャージ (Charge). When I asked what this charge would be fore, they answered it was a general charged, charged to every guest. Something like a seat charge for sitting down.

帰り道 Going Back

So eventually we decided to call it two days and head back. We went back to the Guest House 凡 one more time to pick up our luggage, take a shower say farewell to the other guests we met and head back to the station. When we finally left 凡 it was a quarter to 10 and our bus would leave at 11. The others at 凡 wondered why we'd leave so early, but we didn't want to take a risk. We headed for the next bus station and took one of the two buses heading until 京都駅. However what we only realized later, was that they did not go there directly but took a huge way around the whole city. So when I asked the bus driver, when we would arrive at the station, he said 11:02. Damn! OK What should we do? First thing of course panic. OK we were panicking, so far so good. Then Manu said, there's a Taxi behind the Bus. Alright and now we got a plan, so at the next bus station we jumped out of the Bus and in front of the Taxi, but it just drove away. Argh! OK more panicking and then searching for another one. We found one quickly and in spite of panicking, somehow I was able to explain our situation in Japanese. The Taxi driver was really friendly and 一生懸命 (gave his best) to bring us there in time. When we finally arrived, we had 5 minutes left. However there are many night buses and you never know, which one of them is the correct one. So we panicked some more and asked all kinds of people, until one found our names and told us to wait here. Since we had to wait for another 15 minutes we still were really scared and people kept on trying to help us. Eventually another potential bus driver asked the guy, who told us to wait, what he should do with those scared foreigners (in Japanese but I think I could understand as much). So eventually this bus driver was the correct one and led us to the bus, which left about 25 minutes late...
But we didn't care anymore, we were just glad that we made it in time...

Extra Tips

If you consider going to 京都 I want to give you some advice along your way:

Getting there
Night bus is tiresome but the cheapest way of traveling around Japan and you don't loose time, since you will be traveling during the night. The best site I could find so far is this one:

As I already said above, you should definetely try to get a room at the Guest House 凡 (http://www.guesthouse-bon.com). No matter where you go, usually you can always leave you luggage at the hostel, house, 旅館 (Ryokan) even before you checked in and even after you checked out. That saves a lot of having to carry heavy stuff around.

Bus Ticket
In 京都 there is a really cheap wonderful Bus ticket for 500¥. You can get it in every Bus when asking for it or at 自動販売機 vending machines at the station. It is valid for one day and for every bus!

Express Bus
During the main day (9:00 - 17:00 o'clock) there are three express buses 100, 101 and 102 I think, which only stop at the major bus stops and at every sight on 京都 so you can go through the city a lot faster using them., but having the ticket I mentioned above you can use all the other buses as well.

Bus Map
In front of the station there is a building called バスセンタ Bus Center, where you can get a really helpful and good map of 京都, which has all the bus lines and bus stops in it. You have to ask for this map at the counter, but it is for free. It is really a great help, be sure not to miss to get one.

If you have questions about anything, you can of course always ask me as well! :D

challenging the spirit world

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