Non-Fiction

My Trip to Japan | Day 7, Zen Tourism

Previously, I got my ass kicked by spicy curry

November 8

Stomach full from CoCo Curry House, despite all the trouble, I headed back onto the Kyoto streets.

It was early afternoon and still raining. I didn’t have anything scheduled; I only had a general idea of what to do that day. Thus, I continued toward the huge shrine I had seen the day before.

I believe it’s official name is “Higashi Honganji” based on the pamphlet I got.

I entered via the huge, ridiculously sized gate. It gave great cover in the rain (on and off downpours). There were a few other tourists there, taking well-deserved pictures. Seriously, this gate was huge; possibly three or four stories tall.

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:O

Following the path in, I approached the information center. Inside were various souvenirs to buy, mostly books in Japanese. To my interest, however, was a self-guided audio tour. I was familiar with such guides from visiting museums in Europe, but this was one different.

It was a pen.

With earphones plugged into the pen, it produced recorded audio when pressed against a certain picture. I’m not really sure how it worked, but it was in English so who cared! And, I got 50% of my deposit back when I returned it, so double ‘who cares!’

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Layout of the shrine

I can’t go into the extensive history I learnt that day because, well, I don’t remember it. The pamphlet I kept only gives the names of places in the shrine. And I’m not sure I was listening that strongly…

With guide in tow, I exited and followed the tour laid out in the guide. First was the Founders Hall, but I stopped by the Wash Basin and took a few pictures (and to get out of the rain briefly).

The Founders Hall is the biggest building at Higashi Honganji. So big that, when taking an expansive shot of it, the people on the steps look positively tiny. To see the inside, you need to take off your shoes to preserve the tatami mats. There’s also a place to store umbrellas.

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The people look so tiny!! ❤

The inside was equally huge. I believe it’s 138 tatami mats wide, if I recall the audio guide correctly. It possibly has a record of the largest hall at a Buddhist temple? Don’t quote me on that.

Inside people can meditate, pray, and quietly reflect. There’s one guard stationed to, presumably, stop people from crossing a barrier. A monk would occasionally appear behind said barrier. There were chairs available for those unable to crouch or sit on their knees.

I believe there was a sign that said no photos, but I’m a terrible person and snuck a few.

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After about five minutes, I continued the tour. As much as I liked the place, there wasn’t much to see in that shrine. A lot of wonderful architecture, but speed touring through meant only a 30-minute visit. I believe I was there for approximately an hour, enjoying the scenery and half waiting out the rain.

When I had my fill, I returned the audio guide, got some money back, and kept moving south.

My next intention was Kyoto Station, but I got side-tracked by Yodobashi – the wondrous electronics retail store. It had everything: cameras, CD and DVDs, video games, merchandise, toys, headphones, fitness equipment, and accessories galore. It was a shopper’s delight! It even had a small food court and bookstore on the top floor.

I roamed around for 40 minutes, though I didn’t buy anything as I intended to return and explore to my hearts content. I spent a great amount of time in the models section, where you could buy planes, cars, anime figures, and whatnot. There was also a RIDICULOUS amount of gashapon machines, stacked three high.

Side Note: My sister had asked for a few souvenirs. One was a Splatoon squid that was, supposedly, available in gashapon machines. I looked throughout Japan and I never found it.

After having my fill, I continued my journey to Kyoto Station. Walking up to it, I was once again amazed by it’s stature.

Inside the lobby, I took an immediate right to the escalators. Going up to the mid-level, I took a few pictures of the large Christmas tree on display. Japan had a lot of Christmas decorations during November. I even learnt that they sell artificial trees – though I don’t know how they celebrate. Do they just it a gift giving holiday? And it’s referred to Xmas in their decorations, not Christmas.

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Merry Xmas!!

There were stairs and another set of escalators that continued to a rooftop observation deck. The escalator likely covered four floors and was right next to the stairs. As I rode up, a foreigner guy was running up the stairs at a rapid rate. At that section of the station, the roof had opened up, so I was very impressed he didn’t slip. I’m glad he didn’t hurt himself.

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Good for you man!

Though it was raining, the observation deck still offered wonderful views of the city. From there, I saw a Pagoda not to far in the distance. Checking on Maps, I saw it was only a 30-minute walk away so I decided I’d visit. By then, it was around 3PM, so I figured I had lots of time left in the day.

But, I was hungry again. So just before leaving the station, I went inside the mall for an afternoon snack. The first entrance I found, going down the stairs from the observation deck, directly opened up to small café. I was immediately charmed by the menu of cakes.

I ordered the special; strawberry shortcake, ice cream, fruit, and milk tea. It totaled around $17 (possibly less). It was delicious! Except for the milk tea which was very different from the stuff available in vending machines. Although the employees didn’t have cute outfits like Eggs N’ Things, they were just as courteous.

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I was at Kyoto Station for about an hour, including the afternoon snack and observation deck viewing. Once I was full and had a quick bathroom break, I set out once again.

The 30-minute walk between the station and the Pagoda was uneventful. There wasn’t much in-between the two. School must’ve let out around that time because I saw a lot of students. I also had to walk through a neighbourhood alley where I saw a mailman delivering packages – which I found fascinating because I considered it late in the day for mail.

I walked by a few small shrines and a VERY creepy doll sitting in someone’s garage.

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WHY?

I came to the Pagoda’s park from the back, where the tour buses come in. It had been overcast all day so light was diminishing fast by the time I arrived – 4:30ish. Naturally approaching the crowd, I found the information booth/souvenir shop.

They were closing up soon, but I could get in for about 40-minutes. I paid the entrance fee to the shrine maiden and grabbed a pamphlet.

It was a very zen place, similar to Higashi Honganji, but with more gardens and ponds.

I’ll mention here that Japan seems to have more lichen and moss than grass. I don’t know if it’s an aesthetic thing for shrines and palaces, but most of the historic locations I visited had moss/lichen instead of grass. It was surreal. I’m not sure if this is deliberate or the general Japanese environment, but it was visually appealing.

 

I toured the park, getting a couple so-so pictures with the pagoda due to the overcast weather and setting sun. I also went into a Buddhist temple and saw two giant buddha statues. It was getting dark and soon enough they were politely shepherding people out. I quickly browsed a small art gallery before leaving.

By now it must have been 6PM. It was officially dark out and I had been on my feet for the majority of the day. I retraced my steps and had to take a small rest at the station because I was so tired. I’m not sure when I had the idea, but I eventually ended up at that foreigner’s pub I had seen the day before.

I couldn’t tell you who owned the shop, but the two times I visited the same European guy was manning the place. I went in and plopped into a seat at the bar, just damn tired. I got two beers. According to Maps I was there for about half an hour.

The rest of the night was uneventful. I returned to the hotel and tried to get some rest. I went back out again in search for a meal and stumbled across a restaurant that specialized in parfaits. And I mean serious specialization; they had a display of their entire menu in their lobby with the special $300 only-available-to-a-party-of-10-or-more mega-sundae at the very front.

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Mega-sundae to the left :O

I went in with the intention of having a parfait (who could resist with such an amazing display?) but I got full on my omurice with a side of fried chicken. It didn’t look like much initially, but it was surprisingly filling!

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Side Note: This was my first interaction with the call button: a button at every restaurant table that calls over wait staff. In Japan, after you’re seated the wait staff won’t approach your table unless you call them with ‘Excuse me!’ (in Japanese, of course). Since I was still sick and I had zero confidence in shouting for “Sumimasen!” loudly in a crowded restaurant. I was very grateful for the call button.

Full, I left my table to pay and pulled out my credit card. When I was told they only accepted cash, my heart jumped to my throat. Thankfully, I was carrying around emergency money that covered the cost.

That is why it is important to have lots of cash when visiting Japan: without it, I would’ve been up shits creek.

Next Time: More touring around Kyoto, but on a bike!

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