Monday, May 23, 2011

Biking and playing dress-up

As I mentioned previously, our hotel in Kyoto provided solar-charged electric assist bicycles for touring the city. The electric-assist was pretty cool to use - you would just start peddling and the motor would make it easier. There were three modes including POWER for charging up hill and economy for working harder. Of course, in true Japanese style we weren’t offered helmets for running around, and riding on the sidewalk seemed safer than riding in the road so we succumbed to becoming “those people” that we had loathed in Osaka. In our futile attempt to be more polite than our Japanese counterparts we decided to ring our bells warning folks of our presence nearly every time we passed. We’re pretty sure that we were actually considered rude rather than polite, but we felt better.

Everyone was so excited about the bikes and heading out for the temple that we forgot to stop by Kyoto station and pick up bread for breakfast. Luckily, one of the ubiquitous convenience stores was nearby and had ample supply of fresh, tasty morsels. After nomming our breakfast in the shadow of the grand pagota of Tō-ji we set out to see the sites. Tō-ji is famous for it’s 5 story pagoda that is the tallest wooden structure in Japan. The pagoda is one of the major symbols of Kyoto and its ancient heritage. Tō-ji was built in the 8th century. The above picture is of the Kondo hall, which is the main hall of the temple. Unfortunately, since this site is a national treasure of Japan, they don’t allow photography of the Buddha and other statues inside the hall or the pagoda. I guess you’ll just have to go to Japan to experience them for yourselves ;-p One of the other funny things is that we saw a rag-tag bunch of white folks at Tō-ji, one of whom was wearing an Earlham College sweatshirt. They looked slightly scary so we didn’t bother trying to talk to them.

After Tō-ji we only had a short time until we had to return the bicycles, and Taka had begun to develop a pretty killer cold so she retired to the hotel to rest-up a bit before our busy afternoon. Lisa, Jon and I zipped over to Sanjūsangen-dō. Again, no pictures from this temple because it’s another National treasure. This is Japan’s longest wooden building that houses 1001 statues of the hindu-adapted buddhist god Kannon. Kannon has 11 heads and lots of arms. Each of the individual Kannon statues in the building is unique, holding various ceremonial objects in different positions or with different little-heads on top of it’s main-head. I’m not sure how they got the illegal photos but there are several here for your enjoyment.

After walking through the hall, we didn’t have much time left to return the bikes so we went back to the hotel and picked up Taka. Since we had missed our bread-breakfast we decided to head back to Kyoto station for lunch at a French deli. After nomming some tasty walnut cheese bread and cheese & honey bread we were ready for our next adventure - Kimono.

Taka found this great place in Kyoto where you can go and rent Kimono. The helpful staff assists you out of your clothes and dresses you in the Kimono of your choice for $25/per person. Lisa and Taka literally had hundreds of styles to choose from. For Jon and I the choices were sized based on height and much more limited. I picked a fun silver checkerboard pattern in Large size, and poor Jon had only two choices in 3L - brown or black. He chose brown and rocked it, as seen above. After getting dressed, Jon and I compared notes and it turned out that one other tragedy had befallen him due to his stature - they didn’t have the super-long white boxers in his size so the woman dressing him gave him the Japanese equivalent of a jock-strap and put it on for him!! HAHA. Lisa and Taka didn’t remark on any similar undergarment drama from the ladies’ side so I’m sure we’ll never know. After donning the kimono and a few pictures we headed out to see one of the other famous sites in Kyoto - the temple of the golden pavillion.

Kinkaku-ji is a buddhist temple that boasts a gilded pavillion sitting on a small lake on the north side of Kyoto. As it was quite far away, and because we were all wearing snuggly fitting dresses we took a cab. Immediately upon exiting the cab, the white people wearing kimono became a spectacle. Many of the older Japanese visiting the temple would smile and give us reassuring looks or bows, flattered that we would sport their traditional garb. Others, mostly younger folks would snicker and sneak photos of us. Lisa was a surprisingly good sport about the whole thing considering how much she hates to stand out in any situation.

Along the walk, Taka informed us that we were still wearing the spring kimono that is traditionally worn through the end of May and has about 6 layers (no joke) so we were all quite hot on the 76 degree day. The summer kimono is more like the yakata (robe) from the onsen hotel, and would have been more comfortable. One of the best things about wearing a kimono is the massive sleeves. They gave Jon and I both a small purse for monies and small cameras. The purse could easily be twisted around the wrist and hidden in the sleeve. This revelation led to several chuckles throughout the rest of the trip. The grounds of Kinkaku-ji were quite pretty and featured a small area for tea. We felt compelled to participate given our garb and were treated to a super tasty gold-leafed mochi paired with the rich green bitterness of matcha.

After heading back to the kimono store and getting undressed Taka was exhausted from her cold. We dropped her off and decided to head out to see another cultural wonder of Kyoto with Jon. We hopped in a cab, and after a frustrating 3 minute conversation that indicated that our cab driver had the mental map of a 9 year old we headed out. After a short trip we arrived at Fushimi Inari Taisha, the main shrine in Japan for the shinto god Inari. This particular shrine consists of a large gate, and a few small buildings that lead to a path up a tall hill lined with over 1000 torii (gates). As we walked up the hill there were several individual shrines, each of which paired with a small dwelling. It seemed like the dwelling was a place for a monk to live to tend the individual shrines, but we couldn’t confirm our suspicion. One thing that was interesting about the walk was that we were never far from the ubiquitous vending machine. Even at the tippy-top of the hill there was a machine. Of course, the prices were double what they were on the ground.

The fox is the guardian for Inari, and was represented all over the shrine usually dressed in a red cape out of respect. In addition to the large tojii that you could walk through, the shrines were covered with smaller gates. Jon told us that each tojii was associated with a wish, and there were several signs throughout the shrine indicating how much money had to be donated to purchase a tojii. Prices ranged from 100 yen ($1.20) to 1.4 million yen (over $150K). The amount of money spent on purchasing gates throughout the shrine was truly astonishing.

After climbing to the top and back down, we were pretty tired and ready for something to eat so we wandered around the Fushimi neighborhood. Not long after we started our search we ran into a hole-in-the-wall local ramen shop that seemed like they would be able to accommodate our dietary restrictions. Unfortunately, the woman that Jon had originally conferred with was not our waitress. She was the wicked witch of the ramen shop with horribly dirty fingernails, blistered hands, and even worse dental hygene. At this time though, we were committed and Jon was confident that we could leave with bellies full of tasty ramen. After ordering three bowls of ramen, the waitress returned with a plate of veggies in a tasty green sauce with a few stray shrimp and pieces of an unidentifiable fish and brought out two bamboo steamed baskets filled with vegetables and pork for the boys. We went back and forth on what had happened - was it Jon’s broken Japanese, or was the waitress incompetent. We finally settled on the waitress’ incompetence, enjoyed our motley meal and took the train back to Kyoto station where we picked up a big box of Mister Donut and tasty waffles for breakfast before turning in for the night.

Check out more pictures on Flickr


Isaac said...

I can't believe you got Lisa to do this, but I'm so glad you guys went all out that day. You rocked the traditional garb quite well :D

Marc said...

Taka told Lisa that we were going to get dressed up in Kimono. She didn't tell her that we were going to go out in public ;-)

Isaac said...

Hahahah Trixy Taka!!!

Lisa said...

They got me! But, it is good to put yourself in uncomfortable situations sometimes.
I don't know how the stars do it, the limelight sucks!

Isaac said...

It's all good Lady, you rocked it! You should do it more often :D