Today’s marathon trip around Kyoto was book-ended by the standout colors of two magnificent places we visited. In the morning we went down to see Fushimi Inari Taisha and the famous walk of orange gates that surround the place, walking the entire path through the hills in stunning morning light. And in the early evening, we made our way to the gorgeous (if over crowded) Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, with green light filtered throughout. In between we added to our sampled Japanese cuisine types with an excellent yakitori lunch at a place called Kushikura, and a trip to the Nishiri market. We are back home now and completely exhausted, but very happy with our day’s adventures.
When Ken and I were looking at apartments to rent in Kyoto on AirBnB, we came across the traditional Japanese residence in which we are now staying and were charmed by the idea of it. All the traditional elements seemed to be there: the mats, the walls, the futons, the low table, the intense order, the rice paper screens. It just screamed Japan, and we were thrilled at the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the culture. Well, I can tell you that after a few days here, the charm of this space has warn off and we are feeling more and more as if we are in some Japanese version of Huit-Clos. The discomfort begins when arriving at the room from the outside. As is the custom, we must remove our shoes before entering. But because of the single large step-up and the location of the door and shoe rack on the outside, we must perform this balancing ritual with the dexterity of an Ebola nurse removing her protective clothing. Once inside for a while, the closed-off nature of the room induces a bit of claustrophobia, and there is a creepy feeling that there could be anything outside the space, or total abyss. And after inhabiting the room some time, you realize that there is no single place one can ever get comfortable. The table is low and has no chairs, so one must sit cross-legged in front of it. This usually lasts about 10 or 15 minutes before our legs begin to get pins and needles and we are forced to sit in one of the few other approved positions, such as on our knees. This also lasts a punishingly short period of time until the pain forces a move to another position. So we move to the thin futons to lay on stomach or back for a few minutes, but this is hardly ideal for reading or writing. Most of the wall space is made of delicate materials not suitable for leaning against, and even the small areas we can use are likewise painful after several minutes. In the corner of the room is a chair for sitting in, but it is cruelly low and one can never get comfortable in it, one’s knees are always too high and it is too small. At night we sleep on the aforementioned thin yet surprisingly squishy futons, which seem perfectly designed to induce lower back ailments ranging from muscle twisting to slipped disc. The constant inability to get comfortable is leading to frayed nerves and shortened tempers. Ken and I are looking forward to leaving this place tomorrow, not a moment too soon. We are at least able to laugh about it for now, but too much more time and it will look like a seppuku slaughter in here.
Editor’s note: Outside of our apartment choice, I highly recommend Kyoto, it is lovely.
One of my favorite ways to explore a new city is on foot. I like to set a destination or task, and let the city unfold in front of me on my way to it. Ken is much the same, so we travel well together in this regard. This morning we set our sites on Kiyomizu-dera, about a 40 minute walk from our place. Along the way we saw a bunch of cute neighborhoods, some very touristy streets, and a few gorgeous shrines and temples. I was impressed by how crowded everything was, but I suppose this is a Sunday after all, and there were bound to be tourists. The worst crush of them was at our destination, or at least it was until a torrential downpour began and they all seemed to scurry away. We were lucky to duck into a charming outdoor covered food stand for a surprisingly yummy soup bowl of udon with egg. We missed most of the worst of the heavy rain, and then set out on a different path to get ourselves home. The rain continued on and off, and we were a little wet and fatigued by the time we got back, but all in all it was a beautiful walk. And other than the rain, this seems a perfect time to visit Kyoto, because the fall colors are beautiful.