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Kyoto Part 4 of 6: Sunday

It was still quite dark, the smell of fresh dough, seeming distinctly un-Japanese, wafted in the air, reminding me of an early morning or two I have met in Philadelphia over the years. I decided that a nice way to greet the sunrise would be along the reflective and apparently serene Tetsugaku-no-michi, or Path of Philosophy, so I turned my rudders towards its shores.

It took more than an hour of deliberate steps forward, uninterrupted but for a quick stop in a konbini, convenience store, to buy a breakfast of egg and apple juice, for me to arrive at the path’s simple, stone-worked entrance. (See Photos in Kyoto Photo Album)

The path was nothing to inspire awe. It was a tiny stone path buried by patches of small trees and untamed bushes diverted by a neighborhood shrine and some of the last remaining old style Japanese wooden homes in the country.

It did have some of the first fallen leaves I had seen before old men with brooms hadn’t cleaned up. The path was aged and the canal that ran parallel was a rare example of Japanese cement making a water view more beautiful. The sky went from black to gray to blue and as I reached the end of the three-quarter mile path and turned to my next destination, Sunday morning was in full bloom.

Down the road, I came to another canal, with flowing water and a series of benches. With my heavy bag already deforming the shoulder it slung over, I took a seat and watched bright orange koi fish.

I sit near a stream
A leaf flows with the current
What is the meaning?

Having rested and rubbed the head of a dog which passed me on a leash, I got up and lurched forward, my bag, disheveled umbrella and camera in hand. Two of Kyoto’s more famous temples are grouped together far in the city’s northwestern corner. There were busses and subways, however it was barely 6am, I budget and am always ready to explore a new city by foot, so I walked on.

Kyoto was waking up. I saw joggers and photographers manning a small park that sits on Kama-gawa River as it splits in two. The cars came faster and the bicycle population grew. I walked through the Gyoen National Garden, centered around Kyoto Gosho, the former imperial palace (See Photos in Kyoto Album).

I walked inside the 27 acres of Daitoku-ji Temple, my eyes lingering on a woman dressed in a kimono who was climbing into a taxi. A gentle rain began to fall from the grayish blue morning sky and I hoisted my umbrella up its little flag pole allowing it to waver and wane in the wind. Daitoku-ji was founded in 1324 and most of the compound’s remaining temples and shrines were built in the mid-1400s (See Photos in Kyoto Album).

I walked the mile and a half to the Kinkaku-ji Temple, a hilly walk along Kitaoji-dori. The walls of Kinkaku-ji hold one of Japan’s most famous images. I followed the crowds and agreeably traded 500 yen for a ticket and a pamphlet. I passed a booth and through a gate and before me, mirrored crisply in the pond that surrounded it, rested the Golden Pavilion. (See Photos in Kyoto Album). Yes, the Golden Pavilion is what stands behind the photo of me on my main page.

A Japanese shogun from the fourteenth century bought a house and had it transformed into his magnificent retirement villa. After his death in 1408, his home became a temple, sparkling in Kyoto until 1950 when a crazed monk burned it to the ground. It is claimed that it was built to the exact specifications of its predecessor. Its gold-leaf coating is nonetheless a gleaming tribute, warranting busloads of visitors and remaining perhaps the most photographed image in Japan.

Afterwards I began the walking towards the Ryoan-ji, the Peaceful Dragon Temple. Its tennis court-sized garden is famed worldwide for its contemplative motif of raked sand and strategically placed rocks. I had been walking continuously since 4am. My feet hurt, my bag was dragging and I began to wonder if I cared at all about raked sand. I decided I didn’t.

I was at least three hours of walking from the Kyoto Station so I cheated. I posited 200 yen and grabbed a bus back to the station.

It was still before 12pm so I decided I’d check into the hostel in which I’d be staying that night. I dropped off my bags, stopped for a brief lunch and reorientated my tour. I headed east to the Sanjusangen-do Temple, home of the 1,001 Buddhas. I paid 500 yen, took some photos of the brilliant orange gates and buildings, and headed towards the sight to be seen. The temple was founded in 1132 and rebuilt in 1266 following a fire, making its feeling of age genuine (See Photos in Kyoto Album).

After removing my shoes and regretfully finding that no photos are allowed to be taken of the statues, I turned a corner and was blown away by a chorus of five foot tall golden figures, stretching as far as I could see in rows seven or eight deep. I moved quietly and respectfully, head bowed, behind those that lit incense and prayed to these figures, representations of the Buddhist deity Kannon. Each statue flowed into the next, a sight to be seen. In the middle of the army of the Kannons was the largest, the one thousand and first. Beyond him was even more, 500, I might guess. I stepped out quietly and moved on.

From there, I marched eagerly north to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Tucked in the wooded foothills of the Higashi-yama it holds, I had been told, a view of the entire city of Kyoto. I walked uphill along a tightly-packed, body length-wide road until brilliantly colored karamon, welcome gate, caught my eyes (See Photos in Kyoto Album). The crowd of which I was part rumbled up the stairs and through the gate of the temple, established in the eighth century.

The Temple was a station of several structures. The most recently-built dated from the early seventeenth century. The intricate and ornate buildings and their radiant colors were so dazzling that it took me some time before I turned to take in the view of sprawling Kyoto. The image of these traditional and spiritual structures overlooking a modern city, with its concrete and traffic, was one of the most unique sights of my life.

I sauntered through the path, pausing to catch water from a sacred fall and sip it from a long-armed metal cup for good luck and longevity. I walked down from the Kiyomizu-dera and headed towards the hostel in which I would be sleeping that night. I stopped briefly to negotiate for two small, rice bowls, brightly colored and hand-crafted, and then continued on my way. It was nearly 7pm by the time I made it back to the skinny building in which I had reserved a bed for myself.

The hostel was an abrupt clutter of bicycles and travel guides climbing five narrow floors overlooking a busy intersection just five blocks south of Kyoto Station. I checked in and questioned the price as the cheap are want to do. The cost of 2,500 yen ($21 USD) per night so close to central Kyoto needn’t be challenged, but challenge it I did. The price remaining the same between the hostel’s one single and the few nine person rooms, in which one I would be staying, seemed strange. It was then the clerk smilingly asked if I would give him a 1,000 yen ($8 USD) deposit for my room key. I acquiesced and went to bathe.

I took my bags to the communal shower room up three flights of stairs, the walls covered with both smiling pictures of youngish people who roam the world seeing photographic sights and with suggestions written in English that could be understood but had no grammar correctness.

These were supplemented by reminders that were correct grammatically but couldn’t mean what they said. One sign on a window read, ‘don’t throw away anything. It bothers our neighbors.’ I imagine the message’s author wanted to encourage guests not to throw anything out of the window. Maybe I was just tired.

I showered and decided that because I hadn’t slept in 32 hours or even been off my feet for longer than 15 minutes for nearly 20 hours, I would go to sleep early, after a quick bite to eat at a local bar. So, after settling into my top bunk adjacent to a rickety metal wire shelf that was topped with my belongings, I finally closed my eyes.

My last memory awake was of my roommates; the Dutch boat builder with whom I had spoken, two teachers from New Zealand with whom I hadn’t, and a South African medical school graduate with whom I would, speaking together, with a Japanese roaming motorcyclist pretending to listen. I didn’t stir once throughout the night.

Jaa ne,

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