After 24 hours of travel, I arrived in Kyoto with three other CBS friends who decided to get an early start on our Japan extravaganza. After a bleary eyed initial dinner, where we sat on the ground with our shoes off in true Japanese style, we woke up the next morning to a full day of site seeing. Kyoto is the cultural hub of Japan, and is home to hundreds of temples and shrines. What is the difference between a temple and shrine, you ask? We didn’t know at first either—but a temple is Buddhist and a shrine is Shinto. Interestingly, many of these are co-located as a significant portion of the population identifies as both. I’ve included a photo below, but they don’t convey the serenity of being in a Japanese garden. Everything is meticulously constructed and groomed; workers at the sites can be seen sweeping away single fallen leaf.
Before actually seeing our first shrine, however, we navigated the subway system. Coming from New York City, one expects stations to be fairly dirty with a subtle, but persistent, unpleasant smell. Not so in Kyoto. Subway stations are as spotless as a hospital. This extends to the individual subway cars, where comfy padded seats look as if they were installed yesterday. I’m fascinated by public transportation, but I think this is more than you, the reader, care to hear about a subway.
The first shrine we went to was called Fushimi, which is known for its extensive series of gates. Interestingly, many of these are actually the result of corporate sponsorship—Japanese businesses buy them in order to have good luck and success in their business endeavors. While we weren’t allowed to take photos, we did see a group of businessmen at the shrine praying.
After many photos and a lot of stairs (the shrine is built into the side of a mountain), we decided to rest our weary feet and grab some lunch in the Gion district. The Gion is one of the major neighborhoods in Kyoto, known for its nightlife and beautiful old houses. We ate in one of these along a small canal, a meal of okonomiyaki and fried udon noodles. The former is a specialty of this area, and sort of resembles a pancake with toppings.
We had heavy jet lag at this point, and decided to check out one more site after lunch—a castle. This doesn’t look like a Disneyland castle. The site was beautiful, but the most amusing part was running into a bunch of CBS students who were on a separate trip to Japan! Needless to say, our seasoned brethren gave us a number of helpful tips.
After an early dinner we called it a day—sumo wrestling awaited.
P.S.—The castle picture in this post is actually of Osaka Castle, but it gives you a flavor for what a Japanese castle looks like.