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kyoto trip report part 3

2005-06-06 - 10:33 a.m.

Note: This is Part Three of my Kyoto Trip Report. Start with Part One by clicking right here, continue on to Part Two by clicking right here, or check out the bird photo album by clicking right here.

monk or priest at fushimi-inari

all photos � 2005 by Elaine Radford
Sunday May 29

On previous days I'd taken the bus to and from my various hiking destinations. Today I took the train. That stuff about how the trains are well-signed in English? Don't take that too seriously, at least not for the Keihan line, which was the train near my hostel and the river. I somehow managed to make my way to Fushimi-Inari shrine, but I'm still not quite sure how. It's cheaper than the bus though. If I was staying there longer, I'd definitely make a point of trying to learn the system, and I suspect it would be significantly easier for people who are used to taking trains and subways in other places.

candles on a shrine
a calling crow led me down a side path to this mysterious shrine, with burning candles, and dozens of stone figures wearing grass capes, but no one else around, except the crow himself who landed on the altar
The Fushimi-Inari complex boasts 10,000 torii erected to the fox gods of rice and sake by the faithful, and at times the torii are so thick on the ground that it's like walking through a series of long, dark tunnels. The Lonely Planet trail guide is fairly ludicrous, giving such directions as "there are a couple of teahouses" (there are probably a dozen or more, so figuring out which "couple" are the ones referred to in the book becomes an exercise in futility) and, my favorite, "upon reaching a mounted street mirror, turn left..."

Mr. Guide-Book Writer Dude, there are mounted street mirrors on every corner, so you have no hope in heck of knowing if you've stumbled onto the right street past the right large garden. In the end, I somehow ended up climbing Inari-san twice, but it's OK. They have a nice view of the city. And you can get pretty much the refreshments of your choice up there. My choice was a beer.

view from inari
view from inari-san
In a deep, dark part of the forest, just before I reached what may -- or may not -- be the "atmospheric little grotto" referred to in Lonely Planet, I finally won a good, long look at a singing Blue-and-White Flycatcher. The top of his head seemed electric blue where it caught the light, and his belly was the color of pure just-fallen snow. For that matter, the Varied Tit, impressive enough when seen at Arishiyama silhouetted against the sun in the tops of the trees, was spectacular when seen in even light, especially at eye level or lower.

snouted butterfly at fushimi-inari
i think it's Libythea celtis, any better ideas, email me
I might mention that the butterfly watchers could probably get a decent list in the Kyoto area. I saw any number of swallowtails and some sort of long but rounded wing black and white butterfly that would vanish mysteriously whenever I tried to take its photo. In fact, the first time I reached the peak of Inari-san, I watched two of that species flutter and court in the foreground. Deeper in the forest, I was led down a side-trail by a snouted butterfly that didn't seem to want me to walk off with the camera. I got several decent shots and suspect that it might be Libythea celtis. I won't swear under oath that I've got the species right but I'm confident of the genus.

grotto at fushimi-inari
grotto of moss-covered shrines in forest at fushimi-inari

Later in the afternoon, I explored Tofukuji, which is simply a huge, huge temple complex with dozens of buildings. Moss gardens, wooden bridges, old temples, schoolboys taking each other's pictures, unknown shrines and mysterious statues. I never found the train station again though and actually ended up walking back to my hostel after first crossing the bridge over the river, which was closer than I thought.

window at tofukuji
window at tofukuji

Monday May 30

It was my last day in Kyoto. I took another stroll by the river and then peeked into Shosei-en Garden, which wasn't too far from the hostel. Here I got a closer look at Japanese White-Eye than I had at Daimonji, and I also enjoyed an attractive pair of Grey Herons posing on a scenic isle across a small stone bridge. Somewhere along the path, I encountered another huge snake that I guessed to be five or six feet long. It had a faint stripe down its backbone, but was more of a muddy color than the snake at Arishiyama. I just googled some images on the internet, and I guess both snakes could have been the Japanese rat snake, said to grow to 2.5 meters in length, since they vary quite a bit in the intensity of their pattern and color. I even remember thinking that the Arishiyama snake could have been a rat snake.

pair of grey herons
two grey herons on their private isle in shosei-en garden, can you spot the second (vain) one who wouldn't stop preening for the camera?

Later in the day, I took the shinkansen back to Nagoya. This time I saved 500 yen or so and didn't get a reserved seat. At that time of day I just didn't need it. I easily got an aisle seat in the non-reserved non-smoking car anyway. If you're on a tight budget and don't want to be concerned with finding a certain seat at a certain time, I'd say this is the way to go when buying train tickets.

I took a stroll around the Nagoya train station area, where I encountered random shrines, temples, and rather tortured-looking gingko trees. Of course, the noisy Brown-Eared Bulbul had to make its presence known. I noticed a discontinued style of padded camera bag for sale at a derisory price, probably because all of the Japanese tourists seem to carry tiny up-to-the-minute digital cameras instead of huge, clunking, obsolete digital cameras held together by aluminum foil. I bought the bag, amused to notice that its brand name in English, "sweet pear" was spelled "sweet pera." I think a certain amount of English writing and letters are used in Japan strictly for decoration, but sometimes they are even more decorative than originally intended. The tiny picture of a pear on the bag was my first clue.

gingko street trees in nagoya
talk about a tree grows in brooklyn, these gingko trees don't have an easy time of it with all that wire around them

The very last shrine I visited in Nagoya had a coiled snake statue on the altar. I'm not sure of the deep meaning of all the snakes and snake imagery crawling out of the woodwork.

I returned by bus instead of by train to the Central Airport. It was a couple, three dollars more than the train, but I had a better view of the city, which is huge. I just googled that greater Nagoya has a population of 11 million, which looks about right to me. In any case, it makes New Orleans look like a village. Far outside the city, where the rice ponds start, I checked for birds but noticed only what I'd noticed before. For whatever reason, their rice fields do not seem to attract the large numbers -- or really any numbers -- of birds that we get in Louisiana. They looked like they were flooded too deep to attract the shorebirds or even the herons, egrets, storks, and ibis that we get here. I don't know if they're always like that, or if we came at the wrong time of year. As for the famous Japanese rice, well, it's OK, but I'm afraid I still like our Louisiana rice better! I can do without the extra sticky texture.

nagoya garden
if you think lack of a little thing like a yard will stop the determined nagoya gardener, think again, bunky, people put their plants right out on the street and no one would even dream of stealing them much less sending a nasty-gram to the condo association that you're watering a roof garden again
I checked into my hotel and dropped off my backpack and my camera with its filled-up memory card in my room. Along the way I discovered that my new penguin socks from the 300 yen store had melted. Oh, yick! Further inspection revealed that the penguin picture had been some sort of plastic iron-on which apparently melted during the heat of day as I strolled blissfully around the city. Oh well. You can't win every time you play the game of bargain-seeking, or no one would ever pay full price for anything.

So I trashed the socks and then decided to explore the famous new airport just wearing my sockless sandals. It had just started to rain, and it only rained harder when I found the sky garden where people were watching planes take off and land. And I'm talking about a lot of people, perfectly cosmopolitan Japanese people, had their whole families complete with babes in arms standing out in the rain to watch the planes try to land in the fog. Oh, well. At least most of them had their umbrellas!

I've seen a plane or two land before, and often in better viewing conditions, so I watched one puddle jumper land just to say I did and then I slipped inside and instead nabbed a seat in the restaurant with the windows overlooking the viewing area. I ordered a seafood set by pointing to the photo, and it turned out to be mostly sushi-like fish, with some large orange fish eggs, as well as a bowl of miso soup. I cleaned my plate, but I'm not yet ready to "slurp" my noodles.

Tuesday May 31

Since we crossed the international date line, this day went on forever and forever. We had 47 minutes "in the air" from Nagoya to Tokyo/Narita, but don't kid yourself. My schedule from Northwest showed it as a 90 minute flight -- and indeed the rest of the time seemed to be spent taxi-ing here and there. We taxied for a good thirty minutes at NRT and never got a gate. Finally, the plane pulled up to some buses and dropped us off on the asphalt, where we had to hop in the bus and get a ride to our gate. I guess the bus area wasn't secure, because we then had to be screened again. By the time I found my gate, it was already boarding. Whew. That's a little tighter than I like to cut it. On the other hand, who needs all the waiting around?

orchid hanging out on a doorstep in nagoya, if that had been kenner, louisiana, that orchid would be under somebody's arm and posted for sale in the classified ads in about ten, nine, eight...five seconds flat!

They still weren't giving the non-alcohol drinkers their own can of soda, but I managed to get an entire can by ordering a scotch and soda. The flight attendant wasn't sure how strong I wanted it, so she gave me the entire can so I could keep lightening it up. I guess you could order the scotch and soda (or a rum and coke, to get a whole coke) and ditch the alcohol, but what the hell. It was Dewar's. I drank it.

I did watch a couple of the movies going back, since I had a good seat and I'd used up my paperback books. The first movie was National Treasure, which was fairly stupid since, yo, dude, if the Founding Fathers had had 10 billion worth of gold and looted Egyptian treasure, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson and all that could have just paid their taxes and quietly gone on with their lives without having to fight a freakin' revolution. Poor Thomas Jefferson, $2 million in debt back when that was probably $2 billion...can't see him sitting by idly while Franklin stuffed a hole in the ground full of gold.

old mossy tori at fushimi-inari

The second movie was even worse. National Treasure only asked me to swallow one impossible premise and, after that, you could just sit back and be amused at it for what it was. However, Ocean's Twelve didn't make even a tiny bit of sense. Something about a zillionaire who wanted to prove he was a better thief than Brad Pitt or something. WTF? It was dumber than how in Ocean's Eleven they had the MGM Grand where Caesar's Palace really is, but at least you could understand that Caesar's Palace probably wanted no part of this nonsense. In Ocean's Twelve I'm pretty sure the Evil Casino Dude committed insurance fraud by collecting the same money twice (plus interest!) but hopefully there will not be an Ocean's Thirteen where the insurance company forces Clooney, Pitt, and the rest to steal back Evil Casino Dude's ill-gotten gains. Maybe they can just call the FBI like everybody else.

arishiyama wooden boat

The third movie, Racing Stripes, was one I'd already had the misfortune to be exposed to on America West, and it did not improve in the re-telling.

I got a very last minute upgrade to first class in Detroit, just before they closed the doors. The gate agent thought I might, because one of the people who had checked in had apparently never arrived at the airport or some such. I'm surprised that they had time to offer me a pre-departure adult beverage, but I enjoyed my glass of shiraz and then napped all the way back to New Orleans.

don't ask me what part of you will pass through 10,000 tori gates that i did not understand, but i couldn't believe how the torii just kept on marching and marching and marching, up hill and down dale

Note: You have just read Part Three of my Kyoto trip report. Are you a budget traveler? Stay tuned. I did this trip on a budget, and I plan to post soon telling how.

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