Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Day 6: Silver and Gold

Sometimes things that seemed rather depressing and oppressing at the end of a long day look brighter and easier to take in the light of morning, after a good sleep.  And, sometimes, you just want to get out of the disgusting hovel where you spent the night. This was one of those mornings.

Everything has a bright side, however, and Tani House did afford us opportunities that simply wouldn’t have been so accessible otherwise.  Take, for instance, a morning run along the river; once again this path was marked every half-kilometre. I have no idea how far the path went – we started at the 14km mark and turned around within a couple of kms. The health-conscious Japanese also installed all kinds of recreational facilities along the path – tennis courts, lawn-bowling yards, and gymnastic equipment.

Or, the fact that I helped myself to a broken down bicycle to ride with Mindy while she continued her run through a bamboo forest and a temple complex, where we saw monks going about their morning routines. (The bikes are, technically, for rent, but the landlady was nowhere to be found, and I couldn’t be bothered waiting.)

(Yes, Mindy is on a bike.  We rode by after the run for the photo.)

Of course, running from Tani House meant we had to shower at Tani House.  Just the thought of that still makes my skin crawl.  Thankfully I had brought shower sandals!

Cleaned up and packed up, we made one final concession for the benefit of tourism: we left our baggage at the Tani House and biked (this time we did rent them properly) to the nearby temples – two of the most highly recommended attractions in Kyoto.

The Gold Pavillion, or Kinkakuji is a three story building reflecting three different styles of Japanese architecture. The upper two levels are totally covered in gold leaf, and the whole setting is designed for enjoyment of beauty (and for beautiful photos).

Of course, thanks to multiple fires, this structure is also a reproduction, built in 1955. The original Kinkakuji was built in 1397.  During a massive civil way in the mid-fifteenth century, the buildings were burned to the ground, and later restored.  Then, in 1950, a novice monk at Kinkakuji accidentally burned the place down. How much gold leaf was lost in those fires?!

At the other end of the city, nestled into the bordering hills, lies the Silver Pavilion: Ginkakuji. This building is the real deal – built in 1492! In contrast to the Gold Pavilion, the Silver Pavilion is not silver.  Not at all.  It was so named to contrast it with its golden counterpart, and as a result of how it looks when bathed in moonlight. It is a beautiful building, and the introspective forest walk provided views of the temple complex and Kyoto beyond.

There are some funny things about Buddhism.  Like sand gardens.

This famous sand garden stands in front of the Silver Pavilion.  Apparently it is one of a kind, and a quick look at the towering, perfectly symmetrical cone gives an idea about how much work goes into creating and maintaining it….but why?

This turned me off seeking out the most famous Buddhist rock garden, also in Kyoto.  I saw a photo online, and it is sand with a few rocks. There are more impressive things for me to see and do in Japan.

We had to return to Tani House one last time to pick up our things, and then we were – thankfully! – off to another hotel for the evening.  With the help of Google maps, we had figured out what bus to take, when to get off, how to get to the hotel from the bus stop…all the usual things.  What I didn’t expect was a rather unusual tour of Kyoto’s city bus system.

We boarded the “correct” bus, and then I conferred with the driver to confirm that his route did, indeed, stop where we needed it to. (Given the driver’s limited English and my non-existent Japanese, this was largely done with the help of the kanji that show up in the Google maps.) The driver told us to get off his bus and take the next bus – a different route – because it would be faster.  We disembarked, and waited for the new “correct” bus.  And we waited.  And waited. It was 15 minutes later that our bus came into view.  Not that 15 minute intervals is bad for city buses, but how much faster can this one possibly be on a 45-minute ride?

We got on the bus, and got off a few minutes later.  The bus had pulled into a station and was going out of service. Everyone had to wait for the next but on that route. So we waited again. Finally, an in-service version of our bus showed up and we all piled on.  We got to a stop with almost the same name, and the helpful folks around me assured me (based on the kanji on my phone, again) that said stop was where we wanted to be.  We departed the bus again and tried to orient ourselves according to the map; but it didn’t make sense.  A helpful shopkeeper pulled up an active version of Google maps on his computer (I only had static screen shots on my phone), and showed us where we had to go – another 10 minute walk.  That would explain why the stop name wasn’t quite right – it wasn’t the right stop!  I know the original bus driver was trying to be helpful, but I REALLY wish he had just let us stay on his bus.  Ugh!

Ga-Jyun Guest House turned out to be a massive step up from Tani House, and we found another delightful Japanese restaurant just down the street.  This time, I ordered the “Chef’s selection”, which turned out to involve 8 or 9 courses of soups, tofu, beans, tempura, and on and on.  For my last drink before the race, I had some warm sake.  When in Rome…

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