Kyoto Time, And A Pilgrimage (Or Two)

Exploring Fujiidera

Saturday had arrived. Finally, the day had come to visit Kiyomizudera! I woke up early, and headed down to the station. We were meeting at 10, but I got excited, and showed up at 9. I had about an hour to walk around, so I ventured into uncharted territory, north of the train tracks.

There wasn't really anything in particular to see, well you know, except Japan. I snapped a few pictures of the city, because in Japan, even a leisurely stroll about town is bizarre and interesting.

"Cool Biz" is a recent program that encourages workplaces
to allow their businessmen to wear cooler clothing.

A Lawson convenient store. Lawson is probably
equally as popular as 7-Eleven in Japan.

I even saw something that surprised me. Sure, I had seen many a gas station in my time, but this was the first one I had ever seen in Japan.

Come to think of it, I hadn't seen a car dealership before that day, either.

I also caught glimpse of a cool-looking hot rod across the street, right as the garage door was being shut on it.

It's even my favorite color!

A dog salon?

I did somewhat have a goal. I wanted to see where this Book-Off is. It was surprisingly far away. I didn't have time to go in and browse, though. Judging by how long it took me to walk this far, I needed to head back to the station.

Book-Off is like a Graywhale. They sell all manner of used media.

A toll booth of some kind.

This is a button to help the visually-impaired cross the street. I probably could have gotten away with pressing it, but I didn't want to seem like a baka gaijin.

A shoutengai, Japanese alley mall.
I weaved through the streets , back to Fujiidera station. As soon as all of the study abroad and Japanese students showed up, we started our journey on the trains.

A Maze of Trains

I'll admit, I was pretty confused and lost. The Japanese students were leading us through the complicated subway network of Japan, and it was all extremely overwhelming to me. I was just glad that they were in charge, and not me. Luckily, I had my plans for the way home printed out, because I had my own plans for the second half of the day. What, did I forget to mention that before?

Japan has a really strange culture when it comes to relations between men and women. There are signs all over warning of molesters and perverts. The sign above is information regarding "Ladies Only" train cars, because apparently gropers have become relatively common.

This sign confused me. As far as I could tell, just about every
train car was air conditioned, and this one was no different.
The last train we boarded before our first destination was bound for Demachiyanagi. That's a pretty long name for a place, but I had seen it before. It was precisely where I was planning on going after Kiyomizudera.

From English...


As the train carried us from Osaka to Kyoto, I pointed my camera out the window and took a few pictures.

I guess Christianity isn't completely absent from Japan.

After a long, long ride, we reached our first destination. The Fushimi Inari station.

The train separated us from Kilo.

Fushimi Inari is famous for its Japanese-style torii arches, and I was about to see why. But first, we had to make our way through the long street, jam-packed with shops to take advantage of the tourist trap.

A chopsticks store, they will engrave your name into chopsticks for free.

I couldn't help but notice that most of these shops sold the same products, and usually at the same prices. I guess if you want unique stuff, you've got to put some distance in between yourself and the major temples first.

It looks like a huge skyscraper...
...but it's actually more like 25 feet tall.

After climbing the hill a bit, we were able to see the temple.

Fushimi Inari Temple

From the pictures, I thought that all of this stuff was red, but when the Japanese people heard me say that, and they corrected me to "orange."

Having seen it in person, I still think it's red. Maybe kind of an orange-ish red, but I don't think it's wrong to call it red.

So we headed in. It was a huge place.

If you look closely, you can see a plastic grid they have laid
to keep the rocks level.

There were dog/fox statues everywhere. I'm pretty sure they're supposed to be foxes, but I thought they were dogs. Or maybe it was the other way around. In any case, it doesn't matter; I'll just call them fox statues, because foxes are way cooler than dogs.

There were a bunch of stalls set up, but many of them had signs forbidding photography.

This sign shows what festivals happen in June.

As you can see, I took pictures of some of them anyway.

A yukata stand. They were cheap, and probably for good reason.
After climbing several flights of shallow stairs, we found a row of arches.

It was a very long row of arches.

And it was not the only row of arches.

All of the arches have old Japanese written on them. I could barely read any of it. That's how I know it's old Japanese :P

Here is a picture of the "Omokaru Ishi." Basically, you make a wish and lift one of the rocks. If it's lighter than you expected, your wish will be granted. If it's heavier than you expected, than you have to come back another day and try again. It was much lighter than I expected, but I hadn't made a wish, because I couldn't think of anything and I wasn't gonna waste time standing around thinking of a wish for some magical rock to grant. Hopefully it wasn't a real magical rock.

You could spend 500 yen to buy one of these fox plaques and draw on it. There were many interesting faces.

But what does it say?

This was actually the only time I'd ever seen price-hiking in Japan. In the US, you simply expect things to cost 2 or 3 times as much if you're at a tourist attraction. In Japan, however, I found that prices were pretty much standard, although there was some seemingly-random fluctuation.

In this vending machine was the smallest bottle of Pocari sweat I had ever seen, and they were charging 150 yen for it, which was slightly more expensive than the usual 500ml bottles I saw. I didn't buy it.

For whatever reason, the roots were really shallow
in the ground near the arches.

While I show you this long chain of pictures of long chains of arches, let me tell you about our friend "Neko-Sean."

We exchange students all had our special characteristics. I'm sure there's something that stood out about me that they liked to talk about behind my back. There were two people named Sean in our group, and we referred to one as "Neko-Sean" and the other as "Sean-Sean."

The base of a broken arch.

But why did we call him Neko-Sean? The word "neko" is Japanese for "cat." Neko-Sean had an interesting habit of disappearing or wandering, but he would always show up, usually as soon as we started wondering where he was. It was kind of creepy. At first we called him "Ghost-Sean" or "Yuurei-Sean," but "Neko-Sean" is what stuck.

But the point is, he was a wanderer, and a successful one, at that. And he always came back. Always. This will become relevant later, I promise.

I saw this pretty often on tombs and shrines. It's a bottle of sake.
I'm not sure if it's there because it's sake or because it's a bottle.

We wandered off the beaten path a little
and happened upon this badass shrine.

This bathroom was surprisingly clean,
considering it was halfway up a mountain trail.

"Flinging lit cigarettes causes forest fires."

This was probably the coolest part of Fushimi Inari. After hiking through several hallways of arches, we came across a series of shrines. 

Hey look, it's a pond!

Maybe I was just sick of the monotony from the arches, but it was really interesting. I couldn't help but wonder why there were so many shrines right next to each other. It almost looked like an abandoned outdoor market or something.

Selfie time!

I leaned on a nearby wall to take a steady picture of the pond...

But when I looked down, I got the heebie jeebies, since said wall was covered in ants.

Up until this point, I had mostly stuck with the group. About half of us were together, the other half in a slower group behind us. Neko-Sean was, as usual, off on his own somewhere. I decided to split off and climb up the trail a bit.

There were lots of stairs. I went higher and higher, but there really wasn't much to see after all, so I headed back down.

The Mystery of Neko-Sean

It wasn't long at all until I made it back to the main temple, where everybody had gathered. Everybody, that is, except Neko-Sean.

We knew he would turn up sooner or later, so, in the meantime, we shopped at the surrounding stands and shops.


I finally got to try Taiyaki!

It was kind of disappointing. It just tasted like a pancake with sweet bean paste in it. I don't know what I expected.

Eventually we had to give up on Neko-Sean. He never did show up. We waited for more than half an hour, and even had Nozomu go search for him, but to no avail. Since he was the type to always find his way back, we decided he would be fine. But don't worry, when I got back to the dorm later that night he was there! 

With a mixture of worry and frustration in the back of our minds, we departed for Kiyomizu-Dera!

As always near large temples, there were people wearing yukata.

I snapped a shot of the Fushimi Inari sign at the station,
right as the train arrived.

...Is that a Circle-K?
The stop for Kiyomizu-Dera was just north of there. But the stop wasn't really that close to the temple. We had to walk for at least half a mile to get there.

I saw this in the distance, but it was not our destination.

There were some interesting shops on the way to the temple. Above, you can see some of the wares sold by a shop doing stonework, which, according to the sign, included gravestones, but I didn't see any of those. I guess they are probably custom made.

Apparently, Kyoto is famous for its china (there's no geography pun in there, I promise). There were lots of china shops, especially along the steep road leading up to Kiyomizu-Dera.

I remember seeing at least one poor sap trying to pedal his bicycle up this road. I guess I didn't see it fit to take a picture of him, though.


I was really excited to see this temple, because - you guessed it! I'd seen it before in an anime.

Yuru Yuri!

What a cool place.

There were lots of people there. Most of the group wandered off into the crowd, to see all of the shops down this pedestrian street, but I had my own set of priorities.

I headed in.

There was a great view of the city.

There was lots of stuff barred off, for whatever reason. It kind of felt like I was being herded along the normal tourist path. This wouldn't be the last time I felt this feeling.

I started to recognize things from one of my favorite anime, Yuru-Yuri. In front of me was a building where you could take a walk down a hallway of complete darkness. I wanted to do it, since I had seen the characters do it in the anime, but the line was too long. I decided to come back later. Plus, I was excited to see the "stage."

It was here I met Jackson, and we were herded, with the rest of the sheep, over to the ticket booth, where we bought entrance to the stage for 300 yen.

Great. Another little piece of paper to hold onto.
Theeeeere's Jackson!

People were cleansing their hands and mouths here. Most of them were trying to fill their ladles with the water from the dragon's mouth. I skipped it this time. Too many people.

As we were funneled down this majestic hallway, I could see that we were elevated above the ground.

Inside the temple there was this heavy pole. Supposedly some guy had to carry it... Or something... I dunno, give me a break. It was really heavy. I could kinda lift the small one, but I saw three grown men fail in lifting the big one. I wiggled it a little.

We were on the stage!

It was really awesome.

And high.

There were lots of interesting things going on, but first, I wanted to get a picture or two.

Jackson and I took pictures for each other.

In the middle of the stage, people were burning incense, for some reason. I did it too, because, why not?

We took off our shoes to explore the inner part of the temple.

People were hitting this bowl (ringing it like a bell) and praying at the shrine. Neat.

This little guy is Fureai Kannon. It is said that you can bless a a part of your body by touching him there, so you can make headaches go away by touching his head, etc. I know this, of course, because of anime!

I took this opportunity to play with my camera's tilt-shift mode.

They look like little ants.

Up those stairs, I could see... something. I'm not really sure. I never went in there.

Around the corner, there was a place where you could go get a good view of the stage. This was the better view, in my opinion.

Obligatory self-picture.
Obligatory Jackson-picture.

Obligatory comparison picture.
We then headed down some stairs, where, in addition to some cool architecture, I saw more anime scenes!

Scaffolding. I guess they were doing some kind of maintenance? 

Nearby were the 3 fountains. One gives wisdom, the other good health, and the third longevity. But you're supposed to only choose one. I drank from... None of them! The line was too long. I was satisfied just looking.

Jackson and I had pretty much hit all of the spots, so we started wandering.

Kiyomizu Temple from below.

Eventually we stumbled upon a graveyard. I took this opportunity to break my responsible gaijin code of ethics, and went into full baka gaijin mode for the sake of taking pictures. While being as reverent as a tourist with a camera can be, I strolled in and snapped some shots.

Very cool.

No matter how many times I read this sign,
I cannot understand it.

We had officially gone in a circle. The crowd had died down a little, so I wanted to go walk through the dark tunnel.

So we headed back up the stairs.

Oh. Apparently it closed at 4:00. Maybe next time, Tainai Meguri, maybe next time.

Jackson and I headed for the shops. I hunted for some gifts to bring home, with no particular goal in mind. Jackson was looking for a yukata for somebody. I was kind of hoping I could follow in the footsteps of Kyoko and buy a wooden sword to bring home...

...But I decided it would be too hard to get home on an airplane. I'm pretty sure I'd have a hard time making a case for that to security, so there's no way I could carry it on, and it's long enough that it won't really fit into checked luggage, either.

The crowd was clearing, and it was time for us to go home, too. I took one last picture of Kiyomizu Dera and we hit the road.

It was pretty easy going downhilll; the sloped road did all the walking for me.

Green car 発見!

It had been a fun day, but we were all tired and ready to go home.


Usagiyama Market

I wasn't ready to go home! Don't think I'd forgotten about my solitary plans for the evening! It was time to go visit Demachiyanagi, the city that is home to the primary setting of Tamako Market! That's right. This incredibly long blog post just got longer.

Demachiyanagi station was only a little north, and on the same train line that we had taken all the way from Osaka earlier that day, so it wasn't hard to find my way there.

I knew where I was going. I faced west, crossed this bridge...

And there it was! It's too bad it's not really called Usagiyama ("bunny mountain"), but it stilled looked just like the fake thing!

I headed in. I felt really out of place there, since it is really just a normal shopping arcade. Despite that, it totally felt like I had entered the world of the anime. I couldn't point out anything in particular that I recognized for a while, but it just felt right.

There were streets branching off, where the main character, Tamako lives, although I think I read somewhere that her actual model house is elsewhere. That didn't stop me from looking for it. I decided I would prowl the streets after I finished walking through the arcade.

Things were starting to look more colorful. That's when I came across a meat shop at the end of the street, and I knew I had found what I was looking for. I saw drawings and posters hanging up on the wall. There was a Japanese couple there looking at them, and it didn't take long for the shopkeeper to notice the gaijin staring into his shop, and beckon me in.

There were drawings, small posters, and at least one papercraft doll inside the store. The store wasn't dominated by the anime merchandise, though. It was a normal place. The owner asked me where I was from, and called out his wife to tell her an American had showed up.

He took pictures for me.

One of the employees wanted to be in the shot.

I wish that I could have bought something from their store, since they were being so nice, but there wasn't much a wandering tourist could do with raw fish, especially this far away from the dorm.

Near the shop was a bench, where they offered me tea and let me sign and peruse  the pile of traveler's notebooks. I saw a few entries in foreign languages, but 98% of them were Japanese.

I signed it, of course. I even gave the URL to this blog. Somehow I doubt anybody will ever actually type that in after seeing it, but I thought it was worth a shot.

The book was filled with amazing illustrations that made me feel unworthy to have even put a pencil to paper.

It looks like this guy likes to hunt down and investigate places like this.

Apparently the voice actors had visited, too! The shopkeeper pointed out a page where they had written.

The world feels smaller now.

I suppose since Tanabata was approaching, people had written wishes on slips of paper that were hanging everywhere. The shopkeeper pointed out one written by another English-speaker who had visited. It says he wants to become better at reading Kanji. Me too, buddy. Me too.

I gave the man my sincere thanks, and headed out to try and find more landmarks. I was largely unsuccessful.

I thought this might be Tamako's house.

I was wrong.

I found another place that looked kinda like it.

Again, maybe close, but no cigar.

There was a Tamako Market poster
hanging in the middle of the alley.

So, I started wandering. I was looking for a particular bridge.


I still hadn't learned. You can't expect to find these things by blindly searching. Throughout the trip, I rarely (if ever) found anything without a plan. I did manage to get some cool photos, at least.

I actually realized later that this delta is also a spot from the anime. I wasn't looking for it, though, so I didn't take any real fitting pictures.

I came across some kind of temple as I wandered about the town. Apparently it is Shimogamo Shrine, a pretty popular attraction. I didn't go in, though. It was getting late and I didn't want to risk missing the last train or anything. Plus my camera's picture quality was degrading with the darkness.

Oh, and I saw another gas station. It didn't seem like it was still the same day as when I saw the first, but it was.

After a long (more than an hour, if I remember right) train ride, I arrived in Abenobashi.

The city was really cool looking this late at night. I decided to stop by Animate (that manga/anime superstore).

Along with a couple volumes of manga, I bought one of these. For about five bucks, it's a luck-of-the-draw type deal. The boxes all look the same, but there are 6 different figures you can get. I wasn't really happy about that system, but I tried my luck anyway. I was hoping to get Miyako, my favorite character from Hidamari Sketch, but I would have been happy with Yuno or Sae.

I got Miyako! Yay!

It was the end of an extremely long day, and I was ready to pass out. So I did.


Whew, that was a long post. Way too long. If you actually read that, or even skimmed it, or even just looked at the pictures, I'm proud of you. I'll split it up next time, for sure.

To inject some of my more current life into this, I have started to seriously plan out my next trip to Japan. I don't have a date set in stone (it's either gonna be May 2014, or who-knows-when 2015), but I'm figuring out what kind of luggage setup I want, learning from mistakes I made during this summer trip. I've decided I'm going to try and keep the camera sheathed more often, so I can enjoy it better with my own eyes.

I've also managed to get myself back into Japanese stuff. I kind of relapsed after the trip, playing games I missed and games that came out, like The Last Of Us and GTAV. The final season of Breaking Bad didn't help either.

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