Well I’ve been away from a computer that I can upload pictures to for a while, so today will be a long post to catch up on the last four days.
On Tuesday, I woke up at my hotel in Ise to go to one of the places that I consider to be the most scenic in Japan, the Wedded Rocks, or Meoto Iwa. I was very excited to go there for some time. I took the train to the small city of Futami, which literally means ”Two Views”. This name refers to the two rocks. The Wedded Rocks are two rocks off the coast of Futami, Mie which have a one ton rope tied around them, connecting them. These rocks are said to represent the two creating kami, Izanagi and Izanami.
The Japanese creation myth stems from these two kami and they are very important in Japanese mythology. The larger rock is the male god, Izanagi, and the smaller rock is said to be the female god, Izanami. Since Meoto Iwa represents the union of the original two kami, it is a very popular location for couples to come and pray at the neighboring Okitama shrine. Even though I was alone, I stayed at Meoto Iwa for a few hours watching and listening to the waves against the shore. The air carrying the salty smell of the ocean and the bellowing gong at the shrine made me feel invigorated. This was the first time in Japan that I had seen the ocean and I really enjoyed relaxing for a while before starting my travels again. After I finally got up from my seat, I made my way back down the long walk to the train station and made my way to Kyoto.
Kyoto was the Imperial stronghold in Japan for most of history until the Meiji Restoration. Many temples and shrines near Kyoto (and there are thousands of each) are dedicated to the reverence and worship of past emperors, who are believed to be descended from Amaterasu, the son goddess and daughter of Izanagi and Izanami. Now, Kyoto is the center for most of the Japanese entertainment industry. It is pretty much like our Hollywood. Many of the aspiring actors and actresses in Japan get jobs in amusement parks in which they have to dress up in some kind of costume or perform a role, rather than work at cafes and restaurants as they would in Hollywood. Because of the past link to royalty and the current center of entertainment, Kyoto is the most popular tourist destination in Japan, even over Tokyo. I found this to be true, since the second I walked off the Shinkansen in Kyoto Station, I saw more foreigners than I had in all of the past week and a half in Japan.
In Kyoto, I was to stay with a host family for a few days. Since the woman who booked all of my arrangements on my tour could not find a family for me, she graciously allowed me to stay in her house for three nights. Ota-san met me at the Shinkansen turnstyles and took me to her house via the Kyoto subway station. Her house was very nice although she had told me that she had a more Western style house and not a traditional Japanese one. There were three children in the family, a 23 year old son who was working on his master’s degree at Tokyo University (comparitive to our Harvard), a 21 year old daughter who went to college in Kyoto and therefore lived at home, and a 15 year old son in high school who played rugby. Of the three of them, I only really saw the 15 year old son, because his sister had an orchestra performance on Friday which she would stay as late as 11:30 to practice. But as the son was studying English in school and loved sports, we were able to have a few conversations after his rugby practices.
When I woke up Wednesday, Ota-san had arranged for me to meet with one of her friends who she taught English to on the weekends. She wanted me to experience a traditional Japanese homestay environment while I was in Kyoto, since she had to work during the day. I met the Tsugimoto’s at the Ibaraki subway stop and they took me to a Japanese sweet shop where she bought me Japanese dumplings, omochi (Japanese rice cakes), and some soybean paste treats. We ate them back at their house Japanese-style sitting on cushions around their table on the floor. They were an older couple and, since Mrs. Tsugimoto worked as a guide, we were able to talk about some Japanese history, and I discussed with them some of the Japanese novels I had just read in my Japanese class last semester. Since these novels are some of Japan’s most classic, they appreciated that I had read them and we discussed them for quite some time. Mrs. Tsugimoto then showed me the photos from her daughter’s recent wedding which was done in traditional Shinto style at a shrine. It was very interesting to here the traditions that they do during their weddings, and to see the elaborate kimonos that the women wear. Next we went to lunch and then to the Ibaraki local historical museum. They had several artifacts from the Edo period as well as some tools and pottery that were uncovered from ancient Japan in that area. Finally, they took me to an exhibit of early Christian relics in Japan. This was very interesting to me, as I had read the novel Silence by Endo Shusaku and am currently reading the novel Shogun by James Clavell. Both of these novels deal with Christianity in Japan, and the stories around them are incredibly fascinating. This museum was small but showcased several Jesuit paintings from the Edo period, along with small sculptures of Mary which were believed to be of Japanese origin. This makes sense as going along with the Japanese amae mentality, they were very fixated on the Vigin Mary.
The next day, Ota-san again arranged for me to meet one of her friends in Kyoto while she went to work. Her friend took me to the Toei Studios Theme Park. This is pretty much like our Universal Studios which has a lot of old-looking sets where movies are filmed. It was interesting to see how they filmed some of the samurai fight scenes through several demonstrations. Then we went in to their ninja house which was a maze with different rooms which had hidden ways out. The last room had a slanted floor but all the other walls were straight. This really messed with your sense of balance and was quite difficult to make it across to the other side. After this, I met Ota-san for lunch and then she took me to the Fushimi Inari Shrine which is very close to her house. This shrine was again one of the things I had most wanted to see in Japan. It is known for the thousands of torii gates which line the pathway up to the top of a small mountain located behind the shrine.
The shrine is massive and has 32,000 auxillary shrines within the actual shrine. I did not walk the entire pathway up the mountain because it takes about two hours to walk, but the view inside was beautiful.
Later that day, as Ota-san had to go back to work, I went to Sanjusangendo Temple. This temple is famous for its 1000 statues of Buddha inside. This was a very cool thing to see. However, since it is guarded as a prefectural asset, I was not able to take pictures within the temple. However, so you can appreciate the inside, I found a picture on Google. The outside temple and courtyard is believed to be the location of the famous battle between Musashi, the most famous swordsman in Japanese history, and Yoshioka Denshichirō, the leader of the Yoshioka-ryu in 1604.
The next day was a day of travel to Amanohashidate. Amanohashidate is a large bay across which there is a very small strip of land. This park is considered to be amongst Japan’s three most scenic views. It took a two-hour long train ride to get there, but the view was well worth it. I dropped my luggage off at the hotel and immediately started the walk. The land strip of land is about 3.3 km long and on the other side of the bay is the best view point up on Mt. Nariai. It took my about two hours to make the trek across the bay, take the chairlift up the first part of the mountain and then, finally, take a bus up to the top of the mountain.
At the top of the mountain, there is a Buddhist temple which is absolutely gorgeous. I could not take a picture of the inside of the temple, but the alter was solid gold adorned with a large golden statue of Buddha on either side.
Finally, off to the left, there was the stairs to the best view point of Amanohashidate. I climbed to the top of a small hill and started taking pictures. The view was breathtaking.
I made the long trek back to my hotel and passed out, ending the day. In the morning (today), I woke up and took the Shinkansen all the way back to Kyoto where I will again be touring for three more days. Stay tuned as I see some of the most famous temples, shrines, and castles in Kyoto. See you soon!