Journey in Japan Part 21: Gion with the Finned

Journey in Japan Part 21: Gion with the Finned

Today is my last in Kyoto. Tomorrow I will go to Osaka for three days, before heading off to Nagoya. I still have one temple I want to see, a temple with a difference. I head through the arcade, the same French song is playing that I’ve heard about four other times this week. I know the song but can’t recall the name. There is a Pachinko parlor with a picture of Rowan Atkinson on the advertising board. There is also a strange mascot wandering around the arcade, promoting a festival here this evening.

I start by walking through a district called Gion. Gion is the most famous place in Japan for spotting Geisha; although here they use the local term, ‘Geiko’, which translates to mean a ‘person of the arts’. Gion is littered with loads of traditional old streets lined with even older houses; with a mix of theatres and other traditional entertainment.I head up the mountainside to my last Kyoto temple, Otowa-san Kiyomizu-dera. UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the seventeen Historical Monuments of Ancient Kyoto. There are some very interesting things to do here. One of them is walking from one sacred stone to the other with your eyes closed. If you succeed, then you will be lucky in love. Another thing, which is actually prohibited now, is the chance to jump from a 13 meter high stage. Survival would mean your wish would be granted. This tradition happened in the Edo period. The survival rate then was 85.4%. As I think about jumping, I notice the view from this temple is spectacular, I can even make out Kyoto Tower in the distance.The main reason I came here though was to experience the ‘womb’ of Daizuigu Bosatsu. This occurs not in the main temple building, but the smaller Tainai-meguri Hall. It costs me ¥100 to enter. I take off my shoes and walk down a few steps, all the time holding onto the hand rail made of prayer beads. Beyond the steps I take a right turn and enter a room of complete darkness.

Daizuigu Bosatsu is a female Bodhisattva who has the power to grant any human wish. I stumble alone through the maze of corridors, all the while engulfed in the blackness. Complete darkness like I have never seen before. It is somewhat peaceful, but at the same time horrifying. After a few minutes of carefully walking, I see a light in the distance. A glowing stone. It is at this stone that I make a wish.

Back outside I continue to wander this huge temple complex. There is a natural water spring here, ¥200 to drink, but I choose not to. After I have done enough exploring, I decide it is time to head back; the heat a bit too much for me. At the bottom of the mountain I see this awesome looking bright red shrine. Yasaka Shrine.

My next stop today is along the Takase River, to The Birthplace of the Japanese Motion Pictures Industry. Inabata Katsutaro showed the first experimental film in Japan. After visiting Paris in 1896 to see the Paris Exposition, he returned to Japan with a cinematograph he obtained from French inventor Auguste Lumière. In 1897 he screened the film in the garden of the building. Unfortunately, the building is closed today.

I am a little hungry. I decide that today I will eat my favourite food, grilled eel. I wander a while until I find the place. I take a seat in the restaurant. There are probably eight or nine other people eating here. The restaurant plays no music, and there is absolutely no ambiance. Nobody talks either; everyone just sitting in silence with their grilled eel; as if waiting for the End of the World.

The menu is a little pricey. I order the small grilled eel on rice with pickles. It comes with a teapot full of hot green tea. If I had known, I wouldn’t have ordered a beer. The dish is called ‘Unadon’, and is delicious, the texture somewhere between meat and fish. The soy-based glaze delicious. Even the rice is good; I eat every grain. In total it costs me ¥2800, an expensive treat.

I head back to the hostel for a short while to write, before heading back out for the Kyoto Tanabata Festival, which starts at 6pm.

The festival runs all along the Kamo River. There are about one hundred small stalls selling various Japanese snacks, little gifts and the usual souvenirs. The festival is nicknamed the ‘Star Festival’. It is said that if you write down your wish on a special piece of paper, then it will magically come true. Paper lanterns line one side of the festival, lanterns made of reflective coloured paper line the other.

At the entrance to the festival there is a female performer doing what is basically Karaoke. At the other end, there are people dancing to music on a stage. One guy is dressed, seemingly for no reason, as a polar bear. Nothing really interests me about the festival, so I walk the length of it, then leave. I head back to the hostel, to the roof terrace, and to read my book.

The sky this evening looks like the End of the World.

Read the next part of my Journey in Japan, where I take a trip to Osaka, and am faced with abject misery by clicking here.

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From England, Luke is a writer and editor living on the edge of Tokyo. He enjoys finding the strange and wonderful amongst the seemingly mundane moments of everyday life and travel, and writing about them.

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