Thursday, February 24, 2011

Snow over Kyoto


Thursday, 10/02/2011 22:50, Shinjuku, Tokyo
After a long day at NTT and a sleepy train ride to Tokyo I found myself at the foot of the towering Shinjuku Center Building, waiting for the charter bus to take me for my long awaited weekend. The cold February wind, blowing relentlessly between skyscrapers left me shivering even as I took my seat, lit a small light above my head and started reading Bulgakov's 'The Master and Margarita'. In the famous book, a devilish stranger was described. One of the characters commented on his unpleasant appearance saying that he was probably Polish. After my eyes got tired, I lulled myself to sleep with The Cure's 'Kyoto Song'. I was to wake up in that city.

Friday, 11/02/2011 6:00, Kyoto Station
An even colder wind welcomed me in the past capital, hitting my face with a stingy mixture of rain and snow. Accompanied by the sound of my teeth I literally ran to the station building to hide myself from the storm. After a short tour of a rather unimpressive mall I realised that everything except an overcrowded McDonald's was still closed. Fortunately I was soon joined by Diego and Javier, who came with different buses. Since we still had to wait for the arrival of other friends, we decided to explore a bit more, led by Javi, who fortunately had already visited Kyoto during Christmas and knew his way around the main locations. First of all, Kyoto station's main hall blew my mind with it's astonishing modern architecture and a massive staircase leading to the "Happy Terrace" from where a beautiful panorama of the city could have been seen if not for the snowstorm fog. Fortunately, Bartek and Tomek didn't get lost and arrived around 9.00. Also, I found out soon enough that my summer shoes were not well suited for the weather and spend the next few hours looking for an open shop on a National Foundation holiday, only to settle for an expensive department store with golden knobs and butlers. But at least I got a pair of decent shoes.

On the way we saw the landmark Kyoto Tower, entered the courtyard of the huge Hongan-ji (Temple of the Primal Vow) and marveled at it's beautiful black gate covered in snow. This Founder's Hall Gate is supposed to be the largest wooden structure in the world... Anyway, we crossed the Kamo River, inhabited by some freezing cranes, and wandered around eastern Kyoto's atmospheric, narrow streets leading mainly to restaurants, gift shops and traditional Japanese inns. Eventually we got to Gion - the old geisha district, well-known among gaijins for being the setting of 'Memoirs of a geisha' novel/movie. We were lucky enough to actually meet some geishas taking a walk through the calm alleys. Although it was probably a bit rude, we still had to ask them to be kind enough and take pictures with us, which they did. At that moment I fully realised I made another of my dreams come true. I was in the beautiful Kyoto, surrounded by primeval wooden buildings as dignified as the delicately smiling geishas. Everything was important, filled with tradition and I thought that view, that scenery, that feeling were the reasons I came to Japan in the first place.

As the wet rooftops glittered in the shy February sun and the last remnants of the morning snow began to disappear, we plunged deeper into the dreamy surroundings. Creepy street art, the tall Yasaka pagoda, Hello Kitty Geisha and much more... With a bit of delay we finally got to the impressive Kiyomizu-dera, a temple of "pure water" placed on a hill with a beautiful view of the cityscape. How about descending into the main hall pitch-black basement where the only light source was the dim love stone, granting a single wish upon touching? Also at the temple we caught up with Grega and Jarek, our benevolent hosts for the weekend, who took us right away for a local speciality lunch (okonomiyaki and yakisoba).

We spent the rest of the afternoon roughly following the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto World Heritage Site and there's truly too much write about. We saw the enormous war memorial statue of Bodhisattva (Ryozen Kannon), a wedding, Maruyama Park, cemeteries and got lost in a bamboo forest, where my camera's battery eventually died. Towards the end of our excursion, we were joined by Emmanuel and his lovely girlfriend and were ready for the final temple for the day - the silver Ginkaku-ji with it's precisely crafted garden. That was the limit of our endurance and after a dinner in an oddly Chinese restaurant we called it a day and headed for our well-deserved rest in Kozenji. What a day it was!

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