A Gently Steaming Cup of Tea con't.
Out of the frying pan, into the fire
From Harajuku through sunset to Tokyo Station, and to my first bullet train ride (pictures of a train after Hirsohima). The Shinkansen ride west to Kyoto was eye opening. I'm used to North American train 'racing along' at 100-odd kph, about the same as highway speeds. As the Shinkansen pulled away from the station in the dark, I could feel the steady acceleration... and it just kept accelerating! Lights blazed past the windows, as we pushed steadily faster into the night. The occasional tunnel would suddenly engulf the train in noise then just as suddenly spit it out the other side, none the worse for wear. The occasional dip in the tracks felt like an aeroplane dropping suddenly, sending my tummy for a little tumble. Shinkansen coming the other way were white blurs of buffeting and noise... a mere three feet away were 16 train cars weighing who-knows-how-many-tons screaming past at 350 kph. (That would be sweet to watch from the pilot’s seat!) Woof, what a ride! But silent. Seamless rails, no motor noise, and an almost aeroplane feel to the hostesses walking the isle with snacks and drinks. I can’t help but grin at the situations we humans can become comfortable in. The public transport systems in Japan are pretty phenomenal. Trains and buses run often (and they are full - how many people are on the move at any one second?!) and lead from system to system across the fractured landscape.
I arrived at Kyoto station in the dark and hungry, but it was still lovely. To my chagrin, Kyoto was actually colder than Tokyo - it was chilly even wearing all the clothes I had with me. Hm. This could be interesting (I was in my trusty sandals, too, so my toes were a bit testy. I was wearing a wool hat, a bandana, a longsleeve activewear undershirt, 2 longsleeve cotton shirts, a longsleeve cashmere shirt, undies, mid-weight cotton pants, thin wool gloves, a lined windbreaker, and zero socks). I tried my luck at a nearby hostel, but it was full. Luckily, they knew of another place. A phone call and a map later, I was on my way to a face of Japan I didn't think I would see. The hostel I was sent to was literally someone's house, with bunks in various rooms and very much a group atmosphere. (Still cold, btw.) A late night wander brought me to a ramen house where nobody spoke English, but ‘Ramen, onegai’, some dedicated slurping and an exulted sigh of appreciation was understood well. So much can be said with gestures and body language. I slept well that night under three blankets. Next morning was sidetracked by my promised email check, but I finally ran away to explore this new city. Local wander first, then of to grander exploits. Even with the occasional shaft of sun it was still cold, but movement helped and I was lucky enough to have missed a wet morning.
Grey men, grey stones
If Tokyo was all about dark business suits (oh, by the way, everything is actually about the shoes – the clothes are just accessories) and the hustle of getting stuff done ‘now’, Kyoto generated a more refined feel with its carefully groomed government men in grey overcoats exuding the air of gentlemen. I do wonder what they thought of this mixed-message westerner in their midst. I made my way to the eastern slopes of Kyoto, towards one of the many temple areas. With the colder temperatures, the cherry blossoms were actually just barely making themselves heard through their chattering teeth. Sadly, in missing the wet morning, I had put myself into prime tourist time, so I didn’t spend much time contemplating the temples but instead chose my usual random left to look for the non-coifed Japan.
The upward path to enlightenment
From the temple area, Mark had suggested that I walk the Philosopher’s Path to Ginkaku-ji. Well, I mostly followed his directions. About 5 minutes into the (nice gravel and well populated) path, I noticed a path leading across the nearby stream and… up. Zig!
The sun graced my choice with brilliant beams filtering through the squeaking trees as I slowly climbed up, shedding clothes (so nice to be warm!) and navigating by feel since no map I had or saw showed the trail. Eventually, I was padding 1000ft up through rustling leaves on a trail I could only guess an age for. How many thousands of feet had walked this path and stood at this divide? Time scales warped, slowing the tick of seconds but screaming though the millennia. Sadly, I took the path more traveled since I did have a train to catch at some point that evening. The view from the top was spectacular and far less crowded than the temples below.
The last picture above bears hope. Yes, it is two little trees. I stood near those two saplings, gazing northwest across hill and fold, finally feeling the rush of work fading, feeling the breezes rustle my hair and laugh at my seriousness, and feeling a calmness that I’ve been waiting for a long time. I have asked those two trees to bear with me for a while, as I wander this world, and with the promise that I shall return to them with a true love. Sappy, I know, but I look forward to seeing those two trees at some point, as they grow taller and spread their boughs. I look forward to introducing them to their human counterparts, two people growing with abandon into a wild environment. Somewhere above Kyoto, two trees wait.
Of course, I can’t go down the same path I came up, but I didn’t expect my deviation to be quite as exciting as it became. I finally got back to civilization, but looking at it though an 8ft tall chain link fence. Hm. I wandered back along the fence and it eventually became a discretely hoppable bamboo structure near a shrine. It felt a little odd to sneak around behind fences in a foreign country wondering what would become of me if I was noticed. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be hopping into (paid entry) temple grounds, so I threw a few thoughts skyward and waited for the currently spied upon visitors to depart, then hurriedly scrambled over, dusted the dirt off and did the cat trick of pretending nothing had happened and proceeding to do something obviously casual. After all that stealth, it was a side path that brought me back to the Philosopher’s Path. Grin! Onwards!
The precision and artistry of Japan comes through in spades with their temples. Small details precisely arranged, unremarkable gravel turned into remarkable shapes and graceful swoops, clean lines celebrated quietly and open spaces filled with feeling. Ginkaku-ji was no exception. I shared the pathways with a stream of people enjoying the views. Again, the time warp of slow seconds but whisking millennia…
From grace, with love
And it eventually becomes time to head towards Hiroshima. The chill is starting to make itself very noticeable, so noticeable that a bus-ride to Kyoto station and the nearby department store is welcomed. Again, what did these people think watching me feel my way through the various departments? No, not suits, not shoes, not women’s, not socks… ah, a clearance section! A grey wool sweater and charcoal wool pants made their way to a dressing room. The pants were huge, but fit nicely over my already on pair, and the sweater was perfect. Thank goodness for wool! Back to the train station, ticket to Hiroshima, and up to the platform. I realized as I stood waiting… it was snowing! I was being graced with snow in Japan, in Kyoto, in the land of my newfound calm. Sweet!