The second day in Kyoto was probably my favorite day in Japan. My boss said she felt confident enough about figuring out how to get around Kyoto now, and her husband was back with them, having discharged his talk duties the day before, so I was free to wander around by myself for the day. This was great, because it meant that I got to go see something I hadn’t actually seen the last time I was there, namely Fushimi Inari Shrine.
Fushimi Inari is outside the main part of Kyoto, so first I caught a bus to Kyoto Station, and then I took a local train to Inari Station, which is only about two stops outside the main city. (Being on the local train made me feel like I was really in Japan again, since that used to be one of my main forms of transportation.) The entrance to the shrine is directly across the street from the station, so I made a quick stop in the convenience store for a drink to carry with me, and then set off.
The main shrine isn’t that different from many others, except that it is an Inari shrine, so there are many statues of foxes, since they are supposed to be the messengers and symbols of Inari, god of rice and commerce, amongst other things. The real attraction to me, though, was the system of pathways covering the mountainside behind the shrine, which are almost entirely covered in long series of torii gates. I took a lot of pictures. (Below are two of my favorites.) I spent the whole morning there and left feeling like I had gotten a good workout on all the many, many stairs, most of which seem to go up. I don’t think the middle school kids doing an assignment there were too fond of all the stairs.
I ate lunch at a cafe on one of the terraces in Kyoto Station when I got back, largely because I didn’t really feel like wandering around in the surrounding streets to find somewhere else to eat since I was already pretty hungry. The food was definitely overpriced, but it did buy me a place to sit and read for a little while, and they brought me a little sand timer with my teapot to tell me how long to let it steep, which was cute.
Then I decided to go visit Kinkakuji, since the last time I was in Kyoto it was being refurbished (regilded? reroofed?) and was completely shrouded top to bottom, leaving not much to see. I think maybe we didn’t even go in to the main temple complex because I had seen pictures of how covered it was. This time, though, it seems like I traded Ginkakuji for Kinkakuji, because it was a lovely clear day. I can’t say that visiting the temple was a particularly restful experience, though, as it is one of the most famous sites in Japan, and was therefore thronged with both regular tourists and middle school groups on their big class trip. Once I entered the grounds, I got shunted into the picture taking area first, where I admittedly did take some very nice pictures, and then got swallowed up by the inexorably moving crowd on the path. I think I was in and out of the whole place in about 10 minutes.
After that, since I had nothing else planned, I followed the walking route to the next main temple that is considered a must-see for tourists, Ryoanji. I had been there before, and I probably took some of the same pictures again, but I figured it might be interesting to go back in summer instead of winter, as I did at Ginkakuji. Of course, Ryoanji is famous for its rock garden, the most famous one in Japan, and it turns out rock gardens don’t change much, season to season. It was far more peaceful than Kinkakuji, though. My boss reported later that this was the temple her family liked best, kids included.
After contemplating the rock garden for a while, I got up again and wandered through their other gardens, which, having blooms, were much more interesting than they would have been in winter. There were only a few middle schoolers here, and I found some nice irises.
I then continued down the temple walking route to the last one on the row, Ninnaji, but I was running out of yen at that point and couldn’t pay both the entrance fee and bus fare for the return to the ryokan. I elected to take the bus. When it got me back to the Gion stop, I still had some time to kill before meeting up with my boss and her family, so I went to the 7-Eleven to get more cash (their ATMs were the only ones to reliably work with my US card), and then went back to nostalgically have a coffee at the same Starbucks my dad and I had found last time were in Kyoto. This was an accomplishment at the time because Kyoto is possibly the least beStarbucked city in Japan, though I do think I spotted a few more from the bus window this time. Then I took the route back to the ryokan that went through Maruyama Park. I ended up running into my boss there anyway, as I paused to watch two guys practicing a fairly impressive juggling act, and then turned to find a heron perched in the middle of the pond behind me.
We all then walked back to the ryokan to pick up our suitcases, caught cabs back to Kyoto Station, and then took a shinkansen to Tokyo. We missed seeing Mt. Fuji again, because it was already dark by the time we passed that stretch of the trip. Upon arrival in Tokyo, we transferred to the local Yamanote line (the one that makes a circle around most of the main stops of the center city) and rode it to Ikebukuro, where our hotel was.
Upon check-in, I discovered I had a message from Kamiyama-sensei, who I was supposed to visit in Sendai the next day. When I called him, he said that there had been a major earthquake the day before near the border of Miyagi-ken and Iwate-ken. It hadn’t affected Sendai directly very much, but it had caused some damage to roads and the shinkansen tracks. Being Japan, of course, they had gotten the train running again the next day, but Kamiyama-sensei was worried there might be an aftershock that could disrupt service again, so he thought it would be safer for him and his wife to come meet me in Tokyo instead. With those plans confirmed for the next day, I went to bed.