Waking up in Kyoto, knowing that we didn’t have to hop on a train for another whole day was amazing. We took our time – instead of riding a train for an hour and a half, we drank tea, ate toast, and relaxed for that time, consulting our French Friend finding out where we should travel that day. With a solid six or seven monuments to see and things to eat, we tried to mentally prepare ourselves for an overwhelmingly stimulating day.
First we made our way through a market place touting the best of the Kansai region: pickles. Pickles and things of sticks and colorful window panels and fish. Throughout the market, there were restaurants snuck in between food vendors and trinket stores fronts. There were samples and bags full of beans. There was bargaining and also lots of shouting.
The first real “destination” from our French Guide was the golden temple, famed because of its architectural magnificence. The top two stories are covered with pure gold leaf and each of the three stories are a different architectural style. As an innocent bystander, it was gorgeous and there was certainly a reason for its popularity. Close by is an amazingly serene Zen Garden. All in all, I never understood the idea of raking rocks around stones, but this garden changed me. It quieted my inner voices yelling “RUN! WRITE! COOK! BE PRODUCTIVE!” It was a time and place where people sat by the blanched stoney pool and followed the perfectly minimalistic lines, raked with precision and lost their thoughts to quietude. Words may have spun, wistfully, through some viewers’ heads, but they all came back to the in and out of breath.
I think Laura and I lost some time here. We wanted to keep trudging on, to beat the imminent rain storm destined for our tour-Kyoto-by-food party, but this place, as you can surely tell, drew us in to its calming embrace.
Once we finally found the courage and strength to keep on, we made our way, by passenger train, to probably the most beautiful area I had been in, while in Japan: Arashiyama. The temples framed by trees and mountains. The forests full of bamboo that stretched to the sky. The river that ambled by. The ponds topped with lily pads. It was a good refresher that even amongst urban areas, nature can have a place at the table.
Stumbling back, dazed and enlightened, we wouldn’t have that be the last of our day. My top priority was to see the endless Shinto shrines of Fushimi-inari. We trekked what looked like twenty minutes on the map, which actually turned into about an hour to find these golden orange Shinto gates standing ablaze in the peak of sunset. Passing through each one of them, we felt – again – at peace and warmed by the fact that people constructed these in dedication to something more than themselves. It was kind of like the feeling I had when I went to visit most Italian cathedrals. At first, you are overwhelmed by the size, then the beauty, then the intricacy, then the life-long dedication to one thing that is great.
Famished, we headed back into town by train (not walking, but of course) to meet up with another friend from Korea who was also traveling through Japan at the time. We met up at a vegetarian place that had a wonderful set of food which I didn’t capture. I should have, but the place was so small, intimate, and dark, that I didn’t think that pictures would do it justice. Just picture a divided plate filled with a different vegetable batter fried, sautéed, braised, steamed, raw, dancing with flavors: savory, sweet, umami, bitter, sour. All of them in sync and accompanied by soups, rice, and another plate off to your left full of even more. For example, a root vegetable lightly batter fried on the stove top with hints of seaweed in the batter and garnished with kosher-sized salt and dipped in light soy sauce. Sweet, salty, ocean-notes, and deep. Needless to say, day two in Kyoto was outstandingly enriching and enlightening to those of us that aren’t typically enlighten-able.