Journey in Japan Part 19: Let’s Go To Space, Brother


Today I decide to check out another temple. I lazily take the subway train just one stop, then change for the bus. The bus takes fifteen minutes and costs me ¥230. My destination is Rokuon-ji Temple. One part of the temple grounds is called Kinkaku-ji, or the ‘Temple of the Golden Pavilion’. This is probably the most famous temple in Kyoto, and one of the most popular buildings in Japan.

In 1994, Rokuon-ji Temple was registered as a World Cultural Heritage Site. The Golden Pavilion is covered with gold foil on lacquer. A spectacular building. Breathtaking. Bright gold, it sits idly on an island in the middle of a lake, surrounded by beautiful Zen gardens. Even the vending machines here sell disposable cameras; the Golden Pavilion crying out to be photographed.

The entry fee is just ¥400; the ticket made from beautiful paper and written with expert calligraphy. The path snakes its way through the belfry, passes the abbot’s chamber, the pond, the Golden Pavilion, Galaxy Spring, the Sekka-tei Tea House; all the while, shrouded by the mysterious mountains that make up the backdrop. It is a wonderful route and takes me about twenty minutes at an unhurried pace. Along the way, little wooden shacks selling souvenirs lure in tourists.

After Rokuon-ji Temple, I take a bus to Kyoto Station. From the station, I walk back to Kawaramachi Station. On the way, I pass Kyoto Tower, although I don’t go inside. I have had enough 360-degree panoramic views this month to last me a lifetime.

As I walk away from Kyoto Tower, I see some signs. One of them says that bicycles parked on the streets of Kyoto will be removed, and a ¥2300 fine will be issued on collection of the bicycle. Another sign says that Kyoto is a ‘no smoking’ city, and anyone seen smoking on the streets is subject to a ¥1000 fine. A third sign says that littering grants a ¥30000 fine. I like Kyoto for this, although how often these fines are actually enforced who knows. Sometimes it feels like Japan is inside a gigantic Panopticon.

I see a sign saying, “Now, Life is living you.” There is an entrance to yet another temple beyond the sign; Higashi Honganji Temple. I cross over a moat of water filled with lily pads and approach the wonder. The temple too has a cleansing basin with a water-breathing dragon; it must be a Kyoto thing.

The Goeido Hall is the second largest wooden structure in Kyoto. It is also one of the world’s largest wooden structures. The garden a place of National Scenic Beauty. Shinran sect is the type of Buddhism here. In 1532 a Nichiren Buddhism sect felt that the Shinran sect was becoming too powerful, so they burned down the temple.

I continue my walk back toward Downtown Kyoto. I saw a sign yesterday on the train advertising an art exhibition at the Museum of Kyoto. The museum is only ten minutes walk from my hostel. I pass a shop called, ‘Eggs and Things’, it has a queue of at least thirty women, all standing outside boiling, like the eggs, in the 33°C Kyoto heat. I walk up four random steps, cross a road, then walk down four more random steps. This confusing sign occurs on the steps:

At the Museum of Kyoto, I go to see the opening of the ‘Space Brothers’ exhibition. Men from the Koyama Astronomical Observatory are giving a one-off presentation at 2 pm; the time right now. The presentation is entirely in Japanese. A man is talking whilst pointing at a projector with a red laser pen. The television people are here too; five big cameras and two microphones on sticks capturing every image and every word.

Space Brother is a Japanese manga telling the story of two brothers dreaming about becoming astronauts. This is the first large-scale exhibit of the author Chuya Koyama’s work. Over two hundred pieces of original illustrations are on display. Mixed in with the art is a selection of replicas of space uniforms and models of rockets; all borrowed from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

There is an audio guide in Japanese narrated by two of the voice actors from the Anime series. Spread over two floors, the exhibition also features videos that show the moon landing, real satellites in glass boxes, model rockets, a whole section about Apo the dog, and real meteorites. All for the ticket price of ¥1000. The museum restaurant even has a space-themed menu. Pocari Sweat has a stand here too; write your message and they will send it to the moon when they make their interstellar flight next year.

As I make my exit through the gift shop, I am tempted to buy something. I wouldn’t usually bother, but this is space stuff. For a price of ¥1296, I buy ‘Space Bread,’ and ‘Space Ice Cream’. Food that astronauts actually eat when on missions to space, or when floating about on the International Space Station. I will now shamelessly quote the tagline from the movie Alien: In space, no one can hear you icescream.

I take my space snacks back to the hostel. The ice cream has the weight of polystyrene. It tastes nice though. If you can imagine chomping on soft vanilla ice cream flavoured chalk that turns to powder with each bite. The texture is very odd, but somehow, it still tastes like ice cream. The bread boringly tastes like bread. I am actually surprised how fresh it tastes though.

I sit on the roof terrace with my book for a while. Suddenly, sirens sound all around. Loads of sirens. Three fire engines, a police car, and an ambulance. They arrive at a building on the same block as the hostel. The 20-storey building has a fire on the twentieth floor. Firefighters scramble to the roof. One brave fireman hangs from a rope and abseils onto the balcony below.

Twenty minutes later the fire is out, the sirens stop, the vehicles leave. I stay on the roof a little while longer, reading my book, ‘Dance Dance Dance’. In the distance, the sound of thunder bellows in the sky. As if acting like an early warning sign for the inevitable. The exact second the thunder stops, the raindrops. I decide to leave my book, for now, seeing as I am getting soaked. I grab a hostel umbrella and head for some food. I use the arcade to hide from the rain. A saxophone cover of ‘Yesterday’ by the Beatles floods through the speakers.

I decide to eat Earth food. Kyoto style Okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is like a pancake, but the Japanese refer to it as a style of pizza. It is neither of the two. It consists of batter, cabbage, Okonomiyaki sauce, and shavings of smoked bonito. Small flakes of aonori, a dried seaweed, are sprinkled over the dish to finish it off.

My table has a section in the middle with an iron griddle. The cooked ‘pizza’ is slapped down in front of me. The fish shavings are moving around because of the heat; they look alive. I squeeze some mayonnaise over the top. The food tastes good, however, I am not overly keen on the sauce. The rest of the meal is great though. I add a sprinkle of chilli powder to give it an extra kick.

Some places serve Okonomiyaki uncooked; just the raw ingredients. It is very much a do-it-yourself style dish. The meaning of the word is, ‘what you like’. You can ask for any topping or filling you want. I just pointed at the word ‘vegetarian’ on the menu, because I didn’t fancy going through the ordering process in Japanese. In total the meal costs me ¥1010 with a glass of whisky.

I head back to the hostel, and as usual, finish up the night in the bar.

Read the next part of my Journey in Japan, where I take a trip to a temple between Kyoto and Nara, before hanging around with some deer by clicking here.


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