Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Japan Trip - Day 08

We awoke early that morning to go on a free walking tour around Kyoto, hosted by a couple of local university students from their volunteering club. We were met by Ohno Yumiko-san and Inoue Yukari-san, two girls from Ritsumeikan University. They were really nice, very friendly and very informative. We were also joined by Soon-sensei, a Malaysian from Australia who was now teaching English in Japan; an older lady from southern France, I think it was Marseille; and a similarly-elder lady from Oregon, USA, whose names we didn't catch.

The 16th Free Walking Tour on 22nd April!
*Picture courtesy of Khaosan Kyoto Facebook page.

It was drizzling slightly, but we went on anyway. Our first stop was Chion-in Temple, the biggest of that Buddhist sect in Japan. It had an enormous gate. They also had a huge bell, which is only rung three times a year, on specific important dates which I cannot recall right now. Yumiko-san also said that it was rung for a fourth time once, when Einstein visited and wanted to test a theory he had on destructive interference.

How badass can you get when you disrupt a centuries-old tradition to test scientific experiments?

We also walked through a street lined with souvenir shops, which I think was called Kiyomizu-zaka. Yumiko-san also explained the white charm hung over the doorways, which is supposed to be a charm for rain, with the curled rope bit at the top representing clouds, the zig-zagging ones representing lightning, and the vertical strings representing rain. Being surrounded by the stuff, we didn't understand why someone would want more rain, but I think we rationalised that it was a traditional thing when farmers needed the rain; now it's something similar to a good-luck charm.

It's a symbolic metaphor thing.

There was also a stop at a Studio Ghibli shop, which sold merchandise from the famous anime movies such as Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle. This was more popular with the others; I had only watched Spirited Away before, so I didn't recognise much. There was an adorable cat character though, from one of the shows I didn't watch, Kiki's Delivery Service. Soooooo adorable.

It's adorable! The cat, I mean.

The afternoon stop was the Kiyomizu Temple, which means "pure water temple". There I learned that the large demonic-looking statues were usually guardians of temples, while the guardian dogs usually were sentinels of shrines. We purified ourselves at the spring water, then went in. It was a gigantic temple, built over a cliff face. Apparently one of the stories is that if you jump off the temple to the courtyard below and survive, your wish will come true. Bit of a risky investment, that. There were also giant weights inside, and apparently if you could lift one, you were a man. It took three of us to life the women's one. Just goes to show.

So if you manage to jump into the pool, you might survive.

There was also a smaller shrine, and a set of "Relationship Stones", and the story goes that if you could walk from one stone to the other with your eyes closed, you'd be able to find your soulmate by yourself, but if someone had to help you, you'd need assistance. Well, I made it across completely, and I haven't been visited by any matchmakers yet, so.

Also: Wow, English signs!

The main reason the temple is called the "pure water temple" is because the pure water from the mountain springs flows through the area, and it's collected in a small shrine pool, where you can go and drink the water for good luck. There were three spouts, one for health, one for love, and one for studies. They had these metal cups with long handles, which you could use to collect the water. I took a bit from each spout and drank the lot. It was really cold and very refreshing. They had a really interesting system: the cups were public, but to clean them you put them back into their slots with ultraviolet light to kill the germs. Very efficient.

Hopefully I digested all the luck before I peed it out that night.

We had lunch with the girls and Soon-sensei at this delicious cheap udon place. I ended up talking to Yumiko-san a lot because we had to split up to sit at different tables. I remember she said she didn't live in Kyoto, but traveled two hours here everyday for classes at her university. We never really appreciate how tiny our island is until you go overseas and see how insanely huge the world actually is, and how much time people spend just getting there.

Try hiding behind that menu.
The udon shop was located near the main shopping street, and so after the girls and Soon-sensei left we walked through it. I bought churros, sweet delicious cinnamon churros which I have not eaten for years. It was so good. It reminded me of youth, when my dad used to buy them for me from those small funfair carnival things with the small rides and multiple safety violations. But it tasted way better.

When we got back to the hostel we threw all our used clothes into the washing machine for the first time ever on the trip. Keep in mind that I only brought a total of four shirts - I had been rewearing some of them if I considered them to be clean enough. We had to wait for a dryer, because someone had left their clothes in there, but they weren't coming back to get it. We were hanging out around the living room area until dinner, and then nipped out for dinner. I voted to try a McDonald's, since it's always interesting to see how food that's supposed to be the same around the world is actually slightly different. I had a teriyaki burger, which was not bad, but everything else was the same. I think I should have tried a McPork, because that's something you can never get in Singapore.

That evening we visited the shops around our hostel area. We dropped by the Toranoana, which is a huge anime shop chain. There's a whole bunch of anime stuff which I guess is popular this season, but I haven't watched yet, but so I don't recognise them. Bryan wandered into the adult section.

I wanted to round off by saying that I recognised the song that was playing in the hostel today. It seemed very familiar, and then I recognised it as a Final Fantasy song, but I wasn't sure if it was called Eternal Harvest of Melodies of Life. I went to ask the counter and they said it was Eternal Harvest. Haha, I recognised a FF song wooooo!

*All pictures in this post are courtesy of Bryan.

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