Back on the Bullet Train
Time to head for Kyoto. So now, as experienced riders, we stand dutifully on the yellow line and then hurl ourselves onto the train the moment the doors open and the flood tide of detraining passengers eases. While cruising to Kyoto we confer with Hiro on how we should get to the Tokyo airport after the tour leaves and we are ready to go home. I outline three options and Hiro stares us straight in the eye (unusual) and says: "You must fly from Osaka to Nirito (Tokyo airport). The train connections are very difficult. You will be lost." OK what's $50 more each compared to wandering forever, "Lost in Translation" in the Kyoto or Tokyo station. A small price to pay.
Oh, Aren't they Adorable... Until the Turn on You
We arrive in Kyoto and settle into our "final resting place" which is a seriously nice hotel with regulation height tables and normal beds. The next morning the weather is still holding and we are off to Imperial Nara -- the once capital of Japan. But first we go to the Fushimi Inari Shrine in downtown Kyoto because it appears we have to visit at least two Shrines or Temples per day.
As we drive through the Park surrounding the Todai-ji Temple the famous Nara deer are everywhere. They say there are 1,000 but it really looks like a lot more. They are just free ranging it everywhere. Lying on the sidewalk, waltzing across the street, gamboling in the fields. Our fellow travelers shake off their stupor and become highly animated as they witness the wilderness (not) spectacle. Hiro informs us that there will be adequate time to play with the deer after we see the second required Temple/Shrine of the day. She further informs us that the deer are sacred and respected by all. Some deer will bow to you (never saw it). On a less endearing note, she warns us that the deer are addicted to deer cookies. When she denied a deer a cookie it kicked her and then bit her back. She is almost recovered. She blames this dreadful deer behavior on, guess who, we gaijin who can not resist letting the deer gorge on deer cookies. We don't know whether to buy deer cookies so we can defend ourselves or take the high road and just get kicked and/or bitten. We actually clock three temples/shrines that day. The Todai- Ji Temple boasts the Great Buddha bronze statue that towers more the 50 feet high. And hard on that we visit the beautiful Kasuga Grand Shrine which displayed over 3,000 stone and bronze lanterns (the big ones you see in gardens).
|The enormous Todai-ji Temple. The width of the temple is 57 meters (187').|
|At 15 meters (49') this is the largest Bronze Buddha in the world.|
|Another Buddha coated in gold leaf inside the temple.|
|A scale model reproduction of the original temple and its associated buildings on a scale of 1 to 50.|
|One of the guardians of the temple representing the end of the Japanese alphabet. The other guardian represents the beginning of the Japanese alphabet.|
|This wood carving of Pindola is from the Edo period (18th century). It is said if one rubs Pindola on an area then rubs one's body where one is ailing, it will be cured. It didn't seem to work on my knees unfortunately.|
|Some photos of the Nara deer roaming freely on the grounds...|
|and a warning sign of what the deer are capable of doing if one is not careful.|
|Throughout Japan we saw school children on field trips wearing yellow caps. Yellow denotes warning or caution and is designed to increase the visibility of the children. Notice even the backpacks are yellow.|
|A shinto priest with two shinto maidens in the background.|
|At this temple you could buy these wooden deer heads & write one's wishes on it. This particular wish caught our attention. At first I thought it said cars not cats. I'm not sure which is weirder.|
|The Kasuga shrine had too many lanterns to even begin to count.|
|Two shinto maidens with dippers of water used for purification.|
|Some thought adding deer antlers to the buddha was sacrilegious...|
|so they added them to the shinto priest as well so as to be equal opportunity offenders.|
Are You a Geiko or a Maiko?
We wrap up the day by returning to Kyoto and taking a walk through the Gion District which is home to Kyoto's Geikos and Maikos. There are Geishas all over Japan. To be a Geisha takes a year or two. But Kyoto is the home of the entire Geisha deal. Where the REAL professionals are. And things are a lot more rigorous there. As we walk through the District we see Boarding Houses where the trainees live, schools for Tea Service, Flower arranging, Lute playing.... Some ill -informed folk think that Geishas are sex workers. NO, NO, NO. I know it sounds like the boarding house (Okiya) is a brothel and the Oka-san (Mother) is a Madam but not true. The Oki-san pays for clothing and instructions for the Maiko (trainee for 5 years) betting on a cut of the action when the Maiko becomes a Geiko (after year 6). This is no certain bet since it's sort of like hitting it big in Hollywood. Not many get really well known and those looks don't last forever. I point out that in 6 years you could be a doctor and have a lot more steady work. Hiro gives me the "you really don't get it" look. If you end up a popular Geiko you can make $3,000 USD an hour which is nothing to sneeze at. You could buy 10 square watermelons with that. There now are laws about taking pictures or touching a Geiko or Maiko -- sort of like the Maid's cafe. Apparently, foreigners had been manhandling the Geikos and Maikos and inflicting selfies on them to such an extent that the government had to act. So, hands to yourselves if you wander in Geisha land.
|Our guide explained that these were the various lessons for the Maikos with the days they were being offered.|
|Even the street signs embedded in the pavement indicate we are in the Geiko district.|
|Pictures of one of the houses for the Maikos...|
|and the front entrance to the house.|
|A sign with the prohibitions while in the Geiko district.|
|These establishments use the bamboo in this way to prevent the dogs or cats from using their front area as their toilet, according to our guide.|
|This is a "fake" Maiko and not the real thing according to our guide.|
Halloween -- Really?
It is bad enough that we have exported our commercialized holiday of Halloween to the rest of the Christian world but to Japan -- really? One could argue that All Hallows Eve and Day of the Dead are logical extensions of trying to get the indigenous populations in synch with Christian holidays but I am hard pressed to understand the relevance of Halloween to Buddhists or followers of Shintoism The Japanese are totally enamored with the Holiday while adhering to virtually none of the more popular western aspects of Halloween. They have costumes but don't know about trick or treat. There is nothing scary. Our hotel had a stage set with a strange combination of Halloween objects, props from what looked like the Adams family and a lot of empty picture frames. I think their love of Halloween revolves around sweets. I have never seen a nation with more confectionary stores. Thousands, everywhere.
|Two of the members of our group took advantage of the provided outfits to pose...|
|at the area set up by the hotel for Halloween.|
|Even the retail stores were selling Halloween themed items...|
|while other stores added Halloween decorations.|
|This area was set up in Kyoto Station especially for people to snap their Halloween selfies.|
Here Comes the Typhoon
By this point many in the group have tipped to the fact that a major typhoon is bearing down on us. It looks like Kyoto will take a direct hit. While a bit nervous I feel our group is handling it quite well. Hiro, of course, continues to act as if nothing is happening and even as the weather begins to degrade seriously she carries on staunchly. We go to a Shrine which has thousands of Torii Gates which demand constant maintenance. And there is the Tea Ceremony. These people are all in for ritual. After about 45 minutes we actually have a cup of tea in our hands and learn the correct way to drink it. Use both hands, turn the cup 180 degrees, slurp or gulp the last swig (audibly). From there it is off to our session on Zen Meditation. Of the 16 of us, at least 6 are so " into the moment" that they fall asleep sitting up. I think we disappointed the monk who was giving us instructions. To be fair, our group had reason to sleep. According to my newly acquired Fit Bit (I love it) we clocked over 19,000 steps (about 11 miles dependent on stride length) the prior day. This and a constant infusion of food and liquor had rendered most of us pretty useless. We woke them up and moved on...and on... and on.
|This very colorful shrine entrance was flanked by two foxes...|
|and statues of samurai warriors on either side.|
|This was one of the most ornately colorful shrines we visited.|
|At this shrine you could buy a small torii gate replica on which you wrote your wishes.|
|These large torii gates were donated by Japanese companies or individuals whose name is engraved on the column.|
|The torii gates stretched as far as the eye could see and beyond.|
|No shrine is complete without its bell.|
|This shrine also had a very ornately colored pagoda.|
|This shrine also had the sacred water to be used with the dipper to purify one's hands...|
|before approaching the buddha.|
|On the way to the tea ceremony we passed many shops such as this one with many colorful fans...|
|and another one with these colorful stuffed animals.|
|Our tea ceremony mistress with all of the items laid out for the tea ceremony.|
|Our shinto priest who led us in meditation.... or a nap.|
There Goes The Typhoon -- Sort of
The Good News: At the last minute the storm curves north and hits Hakone and Tokyo - not Kyoto.
The Bad News: Intense rain and wind hit Kyoto but do not quell Hiro's zeal for our adhering to the itinerary. So, wrapped from head to toe in water repellent outfits we stoically climb aboard the bus for our day's outings. First stop a temple with a bamboo forest. Great. It is supposed to be a 45 minute walk through the forest. It is raining torrentially. Everyone but us (we have seen boodles of bamboo forests) opts for the forest walk while we sit tranquil and dry in the Temple contemplating the splendid garden adjacent.
|While the rest of the group walked to the bamboo grove in the rain we enjoyed these views from the shelter of the temple.|
From here it is off to the rickshaw rides. Really. The wind is howling, the rain is pelting as we are secured in the rickshaws with weatherproof coverings wrapped over the rickshaws and us. Unfortunately, the Rickshaw pullers have no such protection. We decide a big tip is in order. While I consider this jaunt insane I have to admit it is really fun in a perverse sort of way.
|Loading up the rickshaws in the rain...|
|and safely ensconced in the rickshaw protected from the rain.|
|We passed this amazing collection of statues on our rickshaw ride.|
|Our driver graciously took this picture of us.|
From there two more temples and Nijo Castle which was the home of the first Tokugawa Shogun. It all blurs. The final event of the day (still raining seriously) is getting suited up in kimonos and yakutas. We go into a very old, atmospheric house (yes, shoes -- sodden-- off) and a cadre of little Japanese women stand ready to wrestle giant Americans into very intricate garb. Hiro tells us that if she decides to wear a kimono it takes her three hours to get dressed. Her husband hates it. We are hopeful it will not take three hours. These women are like little whirling dervishes. Before you know it they have selected outfits for each and wrestled, scrunched and winched us into our new clothes. Many photos later we leave.
|A zen garden in stone...|
|a covered walkway over the water...|
|buddhist prayer wheels...|
|and these two little characters at this shrine. Notice here you can write your wishes on these hearts.|
|At this shrine there was a giant stone buddha.|
|We ended up visiting the Kinkaju-ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion) when there was a slight drizzle as well.|
|The upper two stories are covered in gold leaf...|
|and there is a bronze phoenix on the roof.|
|Each floor of the pavilion was done in a different style of architecture...shinden, samurai and zen.|
|The entrance gate to the gardens at Nijo Castle neatly frame this magnificent tree.|
|Like all Japanese gardens, water and rocks play an important role.|
|The ornateness of the roofs and gables are evident in these photos.|
|Deirdre and our assorted tour mates attired in our kimonos...|
|and our photo together...|
|and finally the group photo.|
There are 14 ways (at least) to say goodbye in Japanese. Sort of like the Eskimo's zillion words for snow. In any case, our tour has come to an end and we have one last Farewell Dinner. It was pretty neat. We had our own room at this restaurant and we had our OWN Maiko to dance for us, sing for us and graciously answer all of our Maiko related questions. Of course, it all entailed shoes off/shoes on, short, short tables and crippling postures but it was well worth it. The dinner was a traditional
Kaiseki dinner. Kaiseki is a very gourmet multi-course dinner that involves a lot of intricate culinary skills. It is also extremely tasty. So, with much food, many toasts and a fair amount of laughter our merry band called it quits and most headed home.
|These next series of photos demonstrate the performance of a true Maiko at our farewell dinner. Note the ornate kimono and makeup.|
|The Maiko posing with our guide Hiro.|
The Way We Were.....
We were driving back to the hotel in our bus when Hiro stood up and asked how many of us were American. We all were but I could understand her lack of clarity in that almost everyone in Japan looks pretty much the same. Our bus contained (best guess) 6 Chinese Americans, 1 Japanese American, 2 Indian-Americans and the remaining 7 or 8 were just pasty white folk. We replied that we all were. And then she told us her tale. She grew up on the North Island of Hokkaido where the Fukushima Nuclear facility was destroyed by a typhoon in 2011. The nation was reeling and lacked the resources to rescue people, feed people and contain the radioactive damage. She said that Japan could never thank America enough for standing by them and helping her people. She then listed from memory what America had done to help. Between March and May of 2011 America spent $90 million dollars in disaster relief, deployed 24,000 U. S Service people, 189 aircraft and 24 ships. She started to choke up (VERY unusual) when she recounted how an American soldier had come up to her and he looked very dirty. She asked him if there was no water and he replied, "I can go without a shower for a while so that people have water to drink." For a Japanese person that is a big sacrifice.
I was heartened by her story but saddened as well. When did we become a strictly transactional country? When we seemed to shift to What's in it For the U.S.? Maybe we should fix that so that we can once more move through the world as an honorable people.
Enough. One more Japan blog. The next one we are on our own once more.