Kyoto–a former capital of Japan–is located an easy 30-minute train ride away from where I live. And I have already been there a total of four times. The only major Japanese city to escape WWII bombings, Kyoto is one of the most picturesque cities in Japan, and the place is overflowing with gardens, temples, and shrines.
The first trip to Kyoto gave me an opportunity to visit Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion. I went with my host family the second time and visited Ryoanji, the famous rock garden, as well as Kiyomizu, a temple with one of the best views of Kyoto anywhere. A third trip had me making my own Mattcha tea, which was cool. Tasted like dirt, but still pretty fun to make, and mattcha ice cream is very good. The fourth trip was a fun one. I went with a group and climbed a mountain! Daimonji Yama! The hike was really steep and entirely uphill, but the views of Kyoto were absolutely worth it. Plus it was great exercise. But it was so cold… Afterward we visited Ginkakuji–the Silver Pavilion. (HINT: It’s not silver…) So overall, Kyoto so far has been a major destination for me.
One thing that keeps irking me is how everyone keeps telling me that basically everything I’ve seen looks better in Spring. With the cherry blossoms out, it makes perfect sense, but it sometimes makes me undervalue my experience with the cold, dead trees and gray sky. At least I can go back in Spring!
While walking around Ryoanji, I asked my host sister what a certain sign by the lake said. It was a warning sign, saying most of the normal things, like don’t play in the water, don’t touch the trees, and a fun one:
“Don’t catch the birds”
Hmm, this one I found to be odd. I have yet to see if the Japanese are Olympic bird-catching champions, and if they are they are hiding it very well, with all the slow crows around here being prime targets. But the sign did strike a powerful Japanese cultural note in me.
“Don’t catch the birds ≈ Don’t disturb the peace”
While at Ryoanji it’s very easy to see this in action. The place is a world-famous Zen temple, and the rock garden there has been a sight for meditation for centuries. Ryoanji has an aura of peace, as do many of Kyoto’s temples, and temples all over Japan.
Therefore it’s important to remember when leaving Ryoanji or Ginkakuji that while the bus you are on is packed to the “sardines-in-a-can-I-cannot-breathe-let-me-out-now level,” there exists another Japan: A Japan that is serene, contemplative, and endlessly beautiful.