Japan2009: Sunday, April 19th
We seem to have turned the bend on the jet-lag thing :) Brendan woke up at 5:00 am and was happy to read quietly until Charlie & I got up at 6:00. After breakfast I did my first load of wash in a Muji washer- very water & energy efficient. Made me really wish I had one at home in the US! It was a warm, sunny day- perfect for hanging the clothes out to dry in the breezeway on the 2nd floor, right off the bedrooms. In Japan, clothes dryers are pretty uncommon & all homes & apartments, large & small, have breezeways for hanging laundry & airing bedding, as well as neat little gadgets for hanging things up.
Today’s adventure (post-laundry :) began around 9:00 am, with a trip to the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, a Shinto shrine located in the south of Kyoto. It’s famous for it’s 4 kilometers of pathways lined with bright, orange-red torii gates, all of which were given to the shrine over more than 1500 years, as offerings to the patron goddess of the shrine. The offerings helped to ensure good fortune in rice farming & in business. The messengers of Inari are fox-gods called kitsune, which are also associated with the fried tofu used in making- you guessed it- inari sushi :) Our trip to the shrine was pretty quick- 2 stops on a local train & then just 2 more on a JR train which stopped practically at the bottom of the steps to the shrine.
It was an amazing place... & we weren’t there for long before it became obvious that something special was happening today. There were groups of men in white happi coats & trousers wandering around, lots of shrine personnel in all sorts of ceremonial clothes, & lots of dignified people being seated in special areas. When we went up to see the paths of torii gates, we heard taiko drumming, & when we followed the sound of the drums, we found a gorgeous dance being performed by miko (shrine maidens) on a stage. We wandered into one of the shops (lots of little shops surrounded the shrine, selling omamori, little figurines, candles, & foods of all sorts) & asked the lady there what was going on (in Japanese). She explained that there would be a matsuri (festival) at 2:00 in the afternoon where portable shrines would be carried around the town. The guys dressed in white would be carrying the shrines, which were made of wood & brass & extremely heavy. Charlie got a nice sequence of photos of one group lifting a shrine & carrying it to the flatbed of a truck (to be taken into town).
It was absolutely incredible to experience- & this wasn’t even the actual festival, just the preparations.
We did some omiyage (presents to take home) shopping & bought some inari sushi & tamago senbei (sweet crackers) to take home, but didn’t have the staying power to hang around until the matsuri proper (& the crowds were really filling the place up, which isn’t comfortable for either Brendan or me), so we headed back to the train station. We stopped at a conbini to buy some onigiri to round out lunch & walked home to eat & rest.
We did some more exploring of the neighbourhood in the afternoon- Charlie & Brendan visited a nearby temple with an absolutely huge bell, & Charlie & I went looking around the ceramics shops nearby. I did some more laundry, since it was still really warm & sunny, & the weather is heading toward rainy as the week progresses. Since tomorrow looks nice still, we’ll probably go to Uji, a town a little farther south than the Inari shrine, which is famous for it’s tea. We visited Uji last time we were here & really liked it- the two oldest shrines in Japan are in Uji, & Charlie read about a place where we could participate in an informal tea ceremony, which even Brendan thought would be interesting. Mata ashita! (See you tomorrow!)