kyoto really is a pretty cool place - it's one of the old capitals of
japan, so it has a palace, a few castles, and a bunch of shrines. the
city is in a vally surrounded by mountains, and the scenery is just gorgeous.
we got to see quite a bit of kyoto in the three days we spent there. i
attached some cool pictures of some of the sites:
the golden temple, known as kinkaku (golden pavilion), or properly
rokuon-ji temple. the top two floors are overlaid in gold leaf.
looks warm, but it's cold. it was built in 1397 by yoshimitsu,
the 3rd shogun of ashikaga. the gold leaf was reapplied in 1997.
a picture of one of the shrines we visited, complete with an
idol wearing a hat. this was my first trip to japan in the winter,
and it was cool to see how idols are dressed during the chilly
mount fuji, which was pretty cool to look at. we saw it on the
fast train (shinkansen) on the trip from tokyo to kyoto. the
japanese call the mountain fuji-san, which is "mr. fuji". you
here people saying stuff like "we saw mr. fuji from the shinkansen",
and "doesn't mr. fuji look good in the winter"
15 rocks of contemplation in a rock garden. somebody set these
up a couple of hundred years ago, and people from all over come
to admire the genius of their placement, and try to guess at
the meaning behind how they're laid out. i think it's like reading
shakespeare, and guessing at the multiple levels of meaning
that the english teachers insist that he meant: the rocks were
dropped there, and people were left to guess at why.
ninjas. we stopped at a real honest to goodness ninja house,
and this is a picture of a real honest to goodness ninja, posing
with marina and take. the ninja house was cool - they showed
all the special places that ninja use to hide: under the floor,
behind the wall, over the rooms. special ninja shoes for walking
through mud, and special ninja ways of determining the weather
(if it's cloudy, it may rain). wow.
the japanese seem kind of superstitious - if you go to the
shrines, you don't go for services, but you go for a bit of prayer, and
then a bunch of good luck acts. like drinking from a special stream is
supposed to grant you good luck. and rubbing the head of some statue brings
you good fortune. and successfully navigating with your eyes closed a
path between two rocks is supposed to bring you love. plus many more:
ringing a bell, thumping a piece of wood, walking backwards, sneezing
without needing a tissue, hopping on one foot with your eyes closed -
you get the idea.
then there are the capitalistic good luck items: you can buy talismans,
key chains, worry beads, worry stones, figurines, birthstones, rings,
necklaces, and refrigerator magnets, all proclaiming some benefit or other:
safe driving, long life, safe sex, long body parts. it seems that just
by spending a bit of money, you can achieve a safer, more satisfying life.
last of all, you can buy your own fortune. the japanese do this differently
- they have a double blind method. first you select a random stick of
wood from something that looks like a large toothpick dispenser. the stick
has a number on it. you give the stick to the storekeeper, and he goes
to a set of bins, which get filled randomly every day with different fortunes.
he hands you a fortune from the one corresponding to your number, and
voila - now you know exactly what's going to happen to you over the next
week. how's that for convenient?
we must not have had a good fortune for finding things. before i got
there, irina was travelling around, and found a vending machine serving
hot apple tea. she had one, and really enjoyed it. well, she must have
enjoyed it, because she would stop and check every vending machine over
the next week to find another one. but alas, no hot apple tea. there was
cold apple tea and hot green tea and plum tea and black tea, but no hot
apple tea. we stopped all the time checking out the machines: irina became
a bit obsessed.
there are drink machines everywhere in japan. they're in all subway
and train stations, and on every street corner. i guess it's like the
coke machines in the states. but these were different: each machine had
hot and cold cans inside. cold coke, tea, ice coffee, and power drinks,
and hot tea, coffee, chocolate, and soup. but no hot apple tea. i started
telling irina that she must have drunk special ninja hot apple tea, and
that it had special ninja tricks for hiding in the machine. maybe if we
took apart the machine, we'd find the secret ninja hiding places. but
she didn't appreciate my humor. instead we had to keep looking in each
and every vending machine.
so i eventually decided to help. but it didn't matter, because there
was no hot apple tea to be found anywhere. every day, every place, every
where. supposedly it came in a red can, but irina wasn't really sure.
we got pretty good at recognizing the machines and drinks: we figured
out that there were three major vendors with their own brands. but none
of these guys had hot apple tea, so we couldn't really eliminate looking
at any one vendor's machines.
i thought that since we couldn't read the japanese labels, maybe we
were seeing it, but not realizing it. so i bought one of each of the other
teas. one by one, we tried them. let me tell you, there were some pretty
nasty teas in those machines. i don't know how anybody drinks them. they
must have been full of vitamins.
just for inspiration, we went back to the train station where irina
got the hot apple tea the first time. but even there, we couldn't find
it. so finally, reluctantly, irina gave up. which didn't really mean much,
because then she started telling me how sorry she was that i'd never get
to taste it. its flavor grew to mythical proportions: it was the ambrosia
of the gods; the primordial soup from whence sprang all life; the dom
perignon of teas in japan.
on our last day, we were walking from marina's place to the train station.
just out of habit, we checked the vending machine right at the end of
the driveway. and it must have been our lucky day. or maybe the ninja
tea ran out of hiding places. or maybe it was the good fortune talisman
we bought to help us find things. or the double blind fortune opened its
eyes. whatever the reason, the hot apple tea was right there, in front
of our noses, in front of the house. and we bought two cans as we walked
to the train station for the trip to the airport.
was it good? oh yeah! after such a search, it was like drinking gold.