Dan in Japan: Day 8

Today is the day. The reason why I wanted to come to Kyoto in the first place: Fushimi Inari-taisha, which is one of the most important Shinto shrines in all of Japan. Admittedly, my desire to come is to see for myself the amazing line of red torii gates that leads up the hillside that I have seen on Instagram and to try to get a good photo of my own to share.

After the exertions of yesterday, I have decided that I will go to only two places today: Fushimi Inari and Tofujuku shrine, which was recommended to me by a follower of mine on Instagram named @ninthsunn. I decide today, however, that instead of walking to the shrines, I will take the subway. I did look at the map, but Inari station is quite far away and I don’t fancy a five-kilometer walk before I even get to the shrines. Luckily, the subway station is right next to my hotel, so I duck inside and check out the map.

Confusion now reigns. Google maps says I have to go two stops to Kyoto station and then transfer and go another two stops on the Nara line. However, when I check the subway map it seems that Inari is not on a subway line; I have to take a subway train for two stops and then transfer to an actual train line for two stops.

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I find the Nara line trains easily, but while I am in the station I decide to get a ticket for the Hakaru airport train while I’m here. I booked my flight back to Seoul from Osaka’s Kansai airport, as I was under the impression that Osaka and Kyoto are very close together. It turns out that they are further than I thought and that the train takes around 90 minutes, not the 30 minutes I thought it was. That will have a knock-on effect on my arrangements for the morning, as I was sure I had a 3.30 pm flight back to Seoul, but it turns out that it is actually 12.35 pm.

Ticket bought, it’s time to get onto the train. I find the right platform and I step onto the train. Since it isn’t too far, I don’t bother sitting down; I get a spot right behind the driver and enjoy a cab’s eye view as we rattle along to Inari station.

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To say I’m surprised by the crowds would be an understatement. I saved Fushimi Inari for January 4th thinking that a lot of the crowds would be gone, since I’ve read that it is the first three days of the year in which Japanese people must perform rituals. The entrance to Fushimi Inari is right across from the train station, and it is thronged. Market stalls and food stands line the path up to the torii gate at the entrance, making the crowd seem even more busy as we shuffle up towards the complex.

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My suspicion that I am not going to get a serendipitous, IG-worthy shot of a geisha wandering through the line of torii gates is confirmed as I get to the entrance and see the hundreds of people trudging though the first set of gates. Of course, they gates are stunning, but with the crowds and the flow of people it’s hard to stop and take them in. Cameras are waving in the air and people are stopping for selfies and it’s a bit of a rabble. I spend my time instead trying to capture the posts and the kanji characters on them, facing backwards towards the flow of people.

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I skip the next section of gates and find my way to the section wherein the gates split into two lines. Here the gates are smaller in size and stature. From the map I saw at the complex, the gates go around in a kind of a loop, and so entry and exit signs point people into different ‘lanes.’

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We continue up the hillside and find shrines and more gates. Here the crowds thin out and it’s possible to get some pictures with the lanes of gates being more empty and devoid of people. As I’m checking my camera, however, I see that my memory card is about the fill up. If I want more pictures, I’m going to have to find a place to clear some. I see a small shrine to the side of this section of gates and I sit down in the emptiness and quietness as I clear some space. A tourist comes in and remarks “So beautiful and peaceful, but so ignored.”

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Back to the gates and to continue up the hillside. I’m not sure how far I have come or how far I have to go to get to the top. I want to get to the top as @ninthsunn had said that he didn’t get time to get there and see the view, so I want to make it up so I can send him a picture of it. We go past more temples and more shrines; at one point some tourists have set up easels and canvasses and are attempting to paint the scene; and at what seems like the top of the complex are several souvenir shops and restaurants. I get some postcards, of course, and I buy a bamboo bookmark. I kind of want a small torii gate but I’m not sure I can get one into my bag.

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I follow some streets along and find myself in some alleyways with shops and shrines and temples. I found the top of the complex a little underwhelming; there are a small collection of shrines and a view across to modern Kyoto, but it is nothing that has wowed me. I send @ninthsunn a pic, and then I look to get out of the complex.

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Surprisingly, we soon come out at the bottom, where I first went in. This means I’ve somehow missed the lane of gates that comes back down the hill. Oh well. I set my map to Tofukuji temple and thread my way through the crowds and along the streets until I find it.

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The complex is a complete contrast to the thrum and bustle of Fushimi Inari. There are not many people here at all, and the atmosphere is more sombre and reverential. I walk around the grounds that I have come in at, and I wander up through a cemetery, checking out the offerings left on the graves. I’m about to go when I see a bridge across a garden and I go to take a wander around. I have to pay 400 yen to get in, but I don’t know get to know what I’m paying for or what the significance of the place is.

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I walk around and I come to a walled garden, which is very peaceful. I spy the temple reflected in a puddle and I kneel down on the wet paving slabs to try and get the shot. The garden is peaceful and the mood is contemplative. I enjoy ten minutes or so of sitting down in the peace and quiet.

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It’s time to leave. It’s around 3 pm now, and the winter sun is beginning to fade. It’s getting colder as I set my map to give the route back to the hotel. Given the crowds, I don’t want to go back to the train station. I decide instead to walk back. Soon I come to a road that goes over the Shinkansen railway lines. There is a road that turns to the right, and across that road is a footbridge across the railway lines. I see a small boy of about eight or nine watching the trains pass, taking pictures of the bullet trains as his, presumably, grandmother watches on. I wonder if I can get an interesting shot too, so I climb the steps and wait for the trains. They seem to come every few minutes in both directions. The boy is thrilled to see them and his grandmother is clearly happy to see the boy enjoying himself. She smiles at me as she sees that I am doing the same thing as the boy. They move on and I stay for a couple more minutes. When I go down the stairs on the other side the boy is waving at the drivers of the regular trains passing by. It’s a sweet moment.

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Tonight I’m not planning to do much. I head back to the hotel and begin to pack, since I’m going to leave early in the morning. I head out for food and wander the streets for a short while, taking in the modern city and thinking about how it mixes with the old. In many ways, I don’t think it does. It’s amazing that Kyoto has so much history that has been preserved, and the buildings are undoubtedly beautiful. However, I don’t feel as though I got to learn much about them and to understand their significance and history. There were not many information boards, and sometimes everything just felt like melded into one. I have enjoyed my time in Japan, however; but I just feel like I came and I looked at stuff and then I went home. Despite this, I am glad I came here. I couldn’t have lived in Korea for 11 years and never have gone to Tokyo, given how close it is. I can now say I have been there, at least, though I’m not sure if I would ever feel the urge to go back.

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