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Sunday, July 1, 2007

Trip to Japan: Day 7 6月23日土曜日

I hadn’t planned on staying in Kyoto 京都 during this trip. I’d originally wanted to base myself in Nara 奈良, and use the city to make a number of day trips in the Kinki 近畿 region. But the hotel where I wanted to stay was fully-booked during this period, and so I found myself once again at the Palace Side Hotel ザ・パレスサイドホテル, where Pamela and I had stayed when we visited Kyoto in the fall of 2003. The Palace Side is a great hotel – nice rooms with cheap rates (plus they give discounts for long-term stays), and a convenient location in the center of Kyoto. It was kind of ironic, however, that in a city famous for its Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, the view from my window was of an Anglican church 聖公会.

One of the things I’d wanted to do on that visit back in Nov. 2003 was to hike between Kurama 鞍馬 and Kibune 貴船. At that time, a combination of bad weather and my wife’s aversion to anything remotely strenuous meant we didn’t go. This time, I decided to slot the hike into my itinerary. And despite the heavy rain that fell at times on Friday, the weather on this Saturday, as I woke up at 6, was clear and sunny. Once again, the 神 had looked upon me with favor on those days I decided to take long walks.

The logistics were pretty simple: I caught a bus from Imadegawa-Marutamachi 今出川丸太町 to Demachiyanagi Station 出町柳駅, from which I got on a Kurama-bound train on the Eizan Line 叡山電鉄. It didn’t take long before the train left the urban scenery of Kyoto behind, and 30 minutes later we reached the terminus at Kurama. A short walk from the station is the gate to Kurama-dera 鞍馬寺.

There is a cable car that takes you up to the temple, but this was a hike, so I started to walk. After about 5 minutes, I came to Yuki-jinja 由岐神社, a small Shinto shrine with some large sugi trees 杉 (Japanese cedar) on its grounds. What better spot than to enjoy the can of Skal スコール that I had bought from a vending machine between the station and the gate to the temple!

Not everything was aesthetically-pleasing. Take this statue, for example. Entitled “Inochi” 命 (“Life”), it represents the three aspects of the god Sonten, the chief deity in Kurama-kyo Buddhism 鞍馬教. It looks like something you might find on a school playground. Fortunately, the scenery behind this hideous-looking thing was much easier on the eyes.

The trail soon led to the honden 本殿 of Kurama-dera. The views from here to the mountain ranges to the east were very good.

From Kurama-dera, I continued uphill to the top of the ridge, where I found the Yoshitsune Sekurabe-
ishi 義経背比べ石.


Minamoto no Yoshitsune 源義経 is one of the more famous figures in Japanese history, and as a young man he used this stone to measure his height to see if he was big enough to go off and fight.

The trail continued on, past a couple of attractive sub-temples, Sojo-ga-dani Fudo-do 僧正ガ谷不動堂 and Okuno-in Mao-den 奥ノ院魔王殿…

…before coming to the bottom at the small village of Kibune. On the way, there was this fuji tree 藤, the branches of which had become incredibly twisted over time.

Once on the road in Kibune, I paid a visit to Kibune-jinja 貴船神社, which turned out to be something of a letdown. The walk up the lantern-lined steps was nice, but the shrine building itself was a recent construction. There was a lot of activity going on at the shrine. One thing which I couldn’t quite figure out involved putting a sheet of paper into a trough of water. Apparently something happened to the paper once it came in contact with the water, but I couldn’t get close enough to see what was happening.

UPDATE: Thanks to an email from Mariko, I now understand what was going on. It's a form of fortunetelling called "Mizu'uranai" 水占い, which translates as "water witching". When you place the fortune slip おみくじ into the water, words that tell your fortune will appear. No wonder everyone was so excited. Thanks Mariko!

I wandered around Kibune village for a little bit, enjoying the scenery by the Kibune-gawa 貴船川.

Many of the inns and restaurants had constructed dining platforms over the river for diners to enjoy a nice meal in the summertime while escaping from the oppressive heat.

I would’ve liked to have done so myself, but the cheapest lunch course I saw was for ¥3500 ($28 or NT930). Perhaps if I’d been with Pamela, we would’ve splurged, but as a solo traveler this time around, I decided to get something cheaper for lunch back in the city.

It was a long walk to Kibune Station, but fortunately it was all downhill. I caught the train back to Demachiyanagi, and still feeling 元気 from the morning hike, I opted to walk back to the hotel rather than take the bus. Along the way, I stopped off a small diner and gorged myself on a large plate of Hamburg steak ハンバーグ and pork cutlet ポークカツ, and washed it down with a draft beer 生ビール. Then, with time on my hands to kill, I walked through the Kyoto Imperial Palace Park 京都御所. The Sento Gosho Palace 仙洞御所 was closed, but the imposing gates were an impressive site.

The park itself occupies a huge slab of real estate in central Kyoto. I walked all the way to its southern end, where there was a typical Japanese-style pond filled with hungry carp.

Eventually, it was time to leave Kyoto. Picking up my bags from the Palace Side Hotel, I took a bus to Keihan-Sanjo Station 京阪三条駅, and then rode the Keihan Line to Yodobashi Station 淀橋駅 in Osaka 大阪. The Keihan Line passes through the less scenic southern part of Kyoto, but it’s one the cheapest routes from there to Osaka. Upon arriving at Yodobashi, I transferred to the Midosuji subway 御堂筋線, and once again found myself in Shinsaibashi 心斎橋, though this time at a different hotel.

And once again, I had the pleasure of meeting up with Mariko and Sachiko. They had done some sightseeing in Kyoto while I was hiking in the mountains, and now were joining me for the evening in Osaka. Osaka is a blue-collar city (at least in comparison with Kyoto), and so for dinner we went out to an izakaya 居酒屋, a Japanese-style pub that offers great food and plenty of beer, and all at reasonable prices. I really wish there were places like that to eat and drink in Taiwan.

After dinner, Mariko and Sachiko returned to the hotel, and I wandered the streets of Minami ミナミ, mingling with the crowds out for a night on the town in Shinsaibashi and Namba 難波. If nothing else, this part of Osaka must be one of the best places in the world for people-watching. But seeing as I had an early flight to Taiwan the next day, people-watching was the extent of my entertainment for the evening.

NEXT: Back to Taiwan

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