Monday, March 22, 2010

Of Toris and Bath Houses

Our second day in Kyoto surrounded us with classic Japanese imagery. I felt like I had stepped into Miyzaki's film Spirited Away. First by visiting the central Inari Shrine in Japan, wandering a bamboo forest and then soaking in a bathhouse. All in the pouring rain.

Stephany and I took the train to Fushimi Inari-taisha after a ill conceived attempt to start the day with a bath at the bathhouse (it opens at three). The Shinto shrine is famous for its numerous Torii gates. The Torii is a bright orange gate used to mark the entrance of a holy place. The Shrine we were visiting is devoted to Inari, the deity of financial success. Each Torii in the shrine is donated by a business, which answers our question of "why do some gates look brand new while others are falling apart?'. It also give us a clue of what was written on the back of each Torii.

The numerous Torii that were flanked by fox guardian spirits. The grounds of the shrine continue endlessly up the mountain and the site was littered with thousands of shines for private worship. Like this one patronized by shrine kitty.

At some point in our adventures we decided that we had time for one more summit. We looked at the map on the way up and concluded that it should only take fifteen more minutes to reach the summit. Rule number one of this trip- traveling of any kind never goes as planned. We made it to the group of shrines on the peak of the mountain and than had the brilliant idea of taking a Torii-less shortcut back down.

We wandered down the path beyond the main shrine, past peoples homes and trough small family shrines. I was never too worried as we were never to far from a road or a home. I knew that we were safe from spending the night on the hill top but finding the train station again was a different story. We wandered in the rain though a breathtaking bamboo forest. It must have been for farming as the feeling of being shrunken Alice would be swapped with towering over the clear cutting. I have yet to see bamboo in Korea and the trip through the forest reminded me again that I was in my dream Asia.

At on point we turned a corner and discovered a small shrine with hundreds of strands of paper cranes. In the corner of the shrine was a carving of a Buddha about 18 inches tall. It had a washed out note card in English describing it as a "heavy-light stone". If you make a wish and then guess if the stone will be heavy or light, the Buddha will change its weight to grant it. By now we had been lost for over two hours and I wished that we could find the main entrance within the next ten minutes. I then guessed that the stone was heavy and just about pulled my arms out of their sockets haphazardly picking it up. Leaving the small shrine behind we stumbled right into the inner-shrine at the heart of Inrari. Thanks heavy-light stone!

Next up on our Spirited Away adventure. Funaoka Onsen, a classic Yubabba style bathhouse. Kyoto has no local thermal hot springs so we were unable to experience the classic Onsen experience. Steph and I still wanted to give the public bath a try, did a little research and found Funaoka. The onsen is one of the few remaining from the 1920's and it has retained its original wood carvings that strangely enough depict the Chinese invading Manchuria. I have gone to many public houses in Korea and I forgot how awkward the first time dropping trow and "hot tubbing" nude can be. It was no issue as Stephany did fantastic at all cultural challenges Japan threw at her. The Onsen has indoor and outdoor pools. The outdoor bamboo pool was the most pleasant but strangely I kept going back for more time in the electric pool. There is a reason my body was buzzing, they run a weak current in the water.

The dip in a classic Onsen was the prefect way to warm up after a long hike in the rain.

Next up- Our visit with Nikki with a Saki in a juice box AND Nara- Tame deer, wild schoolboys.

1 comment:

  1. Well, that explains all the naked Asian women hot-tubbing at the health club!

    Beatiful shrine - *i love mine too!*