Kaleidoscopes and Kimono
Trip Start Mar 12, 2010
35Trip End Nov 18, 2010
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The Kyoto metro system was decent, but not nearly as extensive as that of Tokyo. Additionally, many of the temples were in outlying areas, while the Kyoto train coverage was best downtown. These factors meant that if you wanted to see a lot of Kyoto, at some point you needed to board a bus. In fact, several of the bus lines were designed for tourists. I had picked up a great English-language guide to the bus system, which included a color-coded map of all of the bus lines and stops, detailed instructions for how to pay and line guides organized by tourist attraction.
Bus 100 went by the major tourist sites of eastern Kyoto and had an automated audio tour playing over the speakers, English included. I took that line since it went near our hotel and had two stops I wanted to see: Kiyomizudera (清水寺) and Ginkakuji (銀閣寺).
Kiyomizudera was known in Japan for the expression, "To leap from Kiyomizu stage". The temple was built on the side of a hill, and jumping off of the deck in front of the main shrine was said to grant you some sort of benefit if you survived. The jumping was banned eventually, but the expression still means to go for something wholeheartedly. In addition to the jumping, a waterfall at the base of the hill was said to grant drinkers longevity, success in school and love. A more mundane, but possibly more impressive fact was the temple was built in 780 without the use of any nails.
I arrived right when the temple opened and was mere steps ahead of what seemed to be an unending stream (a river, really) of Japanese schoolchildren. My guidebook said the temple was a mandatory stop on the itinerary of any school trip to Kyoto. I paused to take some pictures at the top of the steps leading down to the sacred waterfall, and when I back turned around I discovered 100 children in matching yellow caps were now ahead of me in line to drink. I decided I would forgo a drink of the water and rely on my own devices to ensure longevity and success in love. At this point in my life, I don't really need help with schoolwork.
There was still plenty of time before meeting my parents for lunch, so it was back on the bus and off to Ginkakuji for me
The pavilion was simple but elegant. The nearby pebble garden was groomed to represent the waves of the ocean and Mt. Fuji. Those were great, but my favorite part by a hair was probably the moss-covered forest garden. The overcast day added to the delightfully melancholy air. (Trust me, it's not an oxymoron.)
The wooded garden was also where I had my first close encounter with a group of schoolchildren. Apparently, while taking their pupils around to see the sights over the years, teachers in Japan observed the sizable concentration of foreigners at said sights as well. At some point, one of them had the idea that this would be a great opportunity for their pupils to practice their English. Accordingly, groups of school children are turned lose with a set of questions to ask whatever hapless gaijin they manage to corner.
The conversation was along the lines of:
Them: "Hello, my name is X. Do you speak English? May I ask you some questions?"
Them: "Where are you from?"
Me: "Dallas, Texas"
Me: "Er, America"
Them: "What Japanese food to you like?"
Them: "I am from Nagasaki
Them: "Wow. What do you know about Nagasaki?"
Me: (Don't say atomic bomb. Don't say atomic bomb...) "It's a port."
Me: "Uh. It's next to the ocean."
Them: "Wow." (I can't believe the foreigner knows anything about Japan.)
Anyway, it was fun and they were cute. Sad to say, but their English was better than my Japanese. The exercise ended with them taking a picture of me, presumably to prove to their teacher they didn't just make-up answers themselves. Or maybe there's some Wall of Fame with my picture on it back at Nagasaki Elementary.
Back on the bus and back to the hotel for lunch and to pick-up my parents. The day was still a bit rainy, so we decided to stick with inside activities. Our first stop was the Nishijin Textile Center (西陣織会館). My mom likes kimonos, and I read the shop had an hourly kimono fashion show, which sounded like a great opportunity for her to see kimonos, and it was
Next-up: the Kaleidoscope Museum (万華鏡ミュ－じアム). That wasn't on my original list, but my mom spotted a brochure in our hotel lobby. Because it was still rainy and my mom really likes kaleidoscopes (almost as much as kimonos), we had to stop by. It was actually not the first kaleidoscope-related tourist stop of my lifetime, I've also been to the World's Largest Kaleidoscope in Upstate New York (basically a projector with some giant mirrors inside of a silo). Maybe I should set a life's goal to see kaleidoscopes on all seven continents...
Anyway, the Kaleidoscope Museum was a typically small Japanese museum. I think the entire thing could have fit inside the World's Largest Kaleidoscope. The kaleidoscopes were also a lot more primitive than the World's Largest, with just about all of them being manually operated. Many of them were made primarily of glass, so no cameras or bags were allowed into the room in order to reduce the chances of knocking something onto the floor. Two staff members spent a lot of time lurking over our shoulders, ready with both advice on how to operate the scopes as well as warnings when it looked like we might be in danger of knocking something over.
There were a surprising variety of shapes and sizes of scopes
We finished the day with a bit of shopping at an open-air (but covered) mall and a delicious dinner of shabu shabu (all-you-can-eat cook-it-yourself meat and veggies dipped in boiling liquid) with a nice view of downtown Kyoto.