Kung Fu Fighting in Kyoto
Kyoto Travel Blog› entry 19 of 174 › view all entries
October 4th, 2009 – by: domnicella
So yesterday I tackled the town with Ben and Ben, who I met the night prior in the hostel lounge. Ben One is from Salt Lake City and has done the pack up and leave for 8+ months thing before, traveling throughout China and India and Southeast Asia and living in China for a stint at one point. Ben Two is from England (near Leeds? I could be making that up) and like me is just setting off on his first conquer Asia by backpack attempt. Ben One and I marathoned from one far-flung corner of the city to the next by day, while Ben Two and I chowed down and threw back the sake by night.
Ben and I started our morning hiking up the mountain to Fushimi-Inari Taisha. Allow me to correct that. Ben and I started our morning idiotically jumping on the first subway to come without noticing it was taking us in the opposite direction that we wished to go and walked around the Yasaka Shrine and Maruyama Park area, the whole time remarking how gee, we were expecting more tori gates, like thousands more, and wasn't this supposed to be a hike up a mountain? We came across a Japanese man doing a whole manner of sit-ups who pointed to the spot on the map where we were, we kept shaking our heads and pointing at the spot where we thought we were -- it was a little bit til we sorted things and made our way back to the subway.
Giggling, are you? Yeah, real funny at 7am when your intended itinerary for the day was already clocking in at 8+ hours before getting lost. F'in hilarious.
Anyway. Fushimi-Inari Taisha is spectacular. SPECTACULAR. Hands down my favorite sight thus far. And I've seen quite a few sights in the past two weeks. That right there is what we call high praise. SPECTACULAR. Get your cute little butt on a plane and do yourself a favor and hike this mountain. Fushimi-Inari is not to be missed.
And when I say "climb a mountain," I mean climb a mountain. We're talking steep, relentless, uphill, often paired with stone stairs, often not, winding, turning, gasping, gulping, sweating, swearing, will make you reconsider your daily caloric intake and gee, maybe I should join a gym -- CLIMB A MOUNTAIN.
Brilliant orange tori gates of all sizes line the path to the top, which thankfully completely and utterly distract you from this uphill trudge you've decided to take on for about 50% of the way. Then you get to a plateau with a brief look-out over the city and you go "wow, that's beautiful. Look at the sun rising over the city. We must nearly be there." Wrong. But there's no sort of map to show you where you are or how far you've come at this point. So you take another flight of stairs to another little refreshment kiosk area (there are probably half a dozen of these things peppered along the way, and dare I say they make a KILLING) where lo and behold there is a map! And it just shows this little loop that's about three feet in diameter and at some point in that loop you make it to the top, before completing the loop and landing right back where you're standing.
Anyway. You can see how this plays out. The point is that Fushimi-Inari is INCREDIBLE and it absolutely needs to be on your must-see list. It's a gorgeous hike up a very lush mountain, the entire way lined with bright, vivid orange tori gates. Small tori gates, large tori gates, gigantic tori gates, medium tori gates, mini tori gates -- Goldilocks would have a field day. Do yourself a favor and eat a hearty breakfast. And be sure pack lots of water. You'll be happy you did. And the hike is truly rewarding.
From Fushimi-Inari, we trained to Kyoto station, where we craned our necks in awe of the mega-complex and rode the dozens of escalators to the ramen restaurants on the top floor. After reviving ourselves with ramen we set out for Nijo-jo, Kyoto's castle. Nijo-jo was very cool, for lack of a better word. A well fortified fortress with the beautiful gardens Kyoto is famous for. We got to walk along the interior of the castle, admiring the rooms where the shogun and the lords used to hang out. Pretty cool stuff. And it was OLD, which made it all the more marvelous. We contemplated trying to forge the moat while weighed down in battle gear, carrying swords and ramming rods, and scaling the walls while being pelted with enormous stones and arrows and assorted bullets.
At this point it's mid-afternoon and the achy feet have long set in. We forked over the cash for a subway ride to the bus stop and rode up to Kinkakuji Temple, aka the Golden Temple. Kinkakuji is pretty freaking amazing. A World Heritage site, this place isn't messing around. It's exactly what it sounds like: a glorious temple painted in gold leaf, gleaming for all it's worth in the dazzling sun. And set, of course, picturesquely in the middle of a pond in the middle of a not-to-be-messed-with, you're-damn-right-we-know-our-gardens Kyoto garden. And in case there remains any uncertainty, the THOUSANDS of tourists being dropped off in greyhound buses by the minute will assure you that yes, this is a World Heritage site.
I'll let the above mental image speak for itself. It's dazzling. You walk up and go "WHOA. DUDE. That temple is GOLD."
By the time we made it back to the hostel I wanted to cry I was so thoroughly worn out. The sun had gone down and we were out the door at 7am. FULL day. After an hour or so of recuperating with Advil and sake, my splitting headache eased and I let Ben convince me to go out for dinner and drinks. (For those of you who haven't realized this yet, I haven't done the dinner or drinks thing in favor of early bedtime. Early bedtime is my thing. Everyone has their "thing," mine is early bedtime. Don't fuck with it. Also, this helps keep the trips to the atm a bit more infrequent.
We walked around the "happening" area in downtown Kyoto for a good hour before settling in a little nondescript hole in the wall. We're talking not a syllable of English to be found. But that was pretty much what we were after. We feasted on eggs, fried pork cutlets, quite possibly the best (moist, succulent, you are SO jealous) yellowtail I've ever had, eggplant, and (obvs) sake. While initially greeted with abrupt silence and looks of confusion so fierce I was waiting to be dismissed, we ended up spending close to two hours attempting to converse via gestures with four of the six other people there. (I wasn't kidding about the nondescript hole in the wall. We're talking a shoebox with a kitchen squeezed into it and eight chairs pulled up to a long yet shallow bar-like thing against the counter top.
All in all, a very long day well spent.
(Note: all photo credits from Fushimi-Inari Taisha onward go to Ben Clark, as my camera battery crapped out about 30 minutes into our hike. You can see he's a far better photographer than I am. You should see his camera. It's pretty kick ass.)
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