Having grown up in Honolulu, I ought to know a tourist trap when I see one. The French Quarter in New Orleans is designed to be a tourist ghetto. Times Square in New York City used to be just tacky, but now it’s a fucking amusement park. I’ve never been to Las Vegas, but I’m already judgmental of it.
It wasn’t until I realized I hadn’t set aside a budget for admission prices that I concluded Kyoto is a tourist trap — a very beautiful and appealing tourist trap, the kind of tourist trap you from which you would happily part with your money.
Kyoto’s main industry, according to teh Wikipediaz, is electronics, but with so many national treasures in one city, tourism is not far behind. Kyoto was once considered a target for the atomic bomb. The world owes a debt of gratitude to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson for stopping that from happening.
My brother prefers Kyoto over other cities, and most of his stays in Japan use Kyoto as his base.
If visiting temple after temple, shrine after shrine were the agenda, the entire week in Japan could have been spent in Kyoto. But for visitors who need to distill their temple sightseeing to one day, Kiyomizu-dera and Maruyama Park are pretty much it.
The last time my brother had gone to Maruyama Park, he and his friends took a subway there, then walked back to their inn near Kyoto station afterward. That was way too much walking, and he was open to another route to get there.
We had left our English-language bus map at the inn, and we couldn’t tell where other folks standing in line at the stop had gotten theirs. So I turned around to the people behind us and asked them. They pointed me to the ticket office, and I got us some maps.
Before the trip, I was self-conscious about my lack of speaking practice. I read more Japanese than I speak, and I didn’t want to sound like a totally inept foreigner reciting phrases out of a guidebook. I discovered I knew enough to make people comfortable enough to speak back to me, although they spoke too fast for me to understand. I think now I have more incentive to practice.
We took a bus that dropped us off right at the foot of Kiyomizu-dera. I was thus convinced to eschew the subway from that point on.
Kiyomizu-dera is situated in the mountains, with an astonishing view of the city. On the Sunday morning when we went, the place was crowded with group tours, visitors and not an insignificant smattering of foreigners.
If I didn’t end up going to any other temple or shrine for the rest of the trip, I could say I got my money’s worth at Kiyomizu-dera.
On the way down from Kiyomizu-dera, a stone road leads visitors to various shops and eateries. I was tasked by a friend to get some fabric, but just in case I failed in my mission, I found a furoshiki. For myself, I ended up with … a necktie.
But it’s a really nice necktie, relatively cheaper than the ones on display, but still really nice.
I had hoped we could run into some geisha, and while I was browsing a souvenir shop, my brother spotted some. We caught up with them in time for my brother to snap a picture.
The stone path eventually led to Maruyama Park, where we stopped by Ryozen Kannon, a memorial for Japanese who died in World War II. The Ryozen Kannon has a big ass Buddha.
Part of the decision to visit Japan in November was to see the leaves change colors, and Maruyama Park certainly afforded that opportunity.
We were finished with Kiyomizu-dera and Maruyama Park by 11 a.m., giving us enough time to walk through Gion District.
I wanted to find my friend’s fabrics, so I stopped by any place that seemed likely to sell them. I didn’t find any place in the Gion District. When my brother and I reached Shirakawa Canal, we split up. He wanted to explore the canal, and I wanted to head back to Shijo-Kawaramachi, the shopping district where Tower Records was located.
I eventually found a fabric store on Shijo-dori called Nomura Tailor. I wasn’t going to look for another one, so I vowed to spend the cash given by my friend in one go. I ended up with five different patterns, two meters each.
Success! With that out of the way, I could assess my financial resources to see whether I could pick up a few more items on my wish list.
My brother and I met up at the inn again. I still wanted to see Kinkakuji, the Buddhist temple with the gold-leaf lacquer. He wanted to call it in for the day. By now, I felt comfortable enough to go out on my own.
So I took a bus to Kinkakuji. Rain was in the forecast, and it started to come down in earnest by the time I started out.
Like every place else we visited that day, Kinkakuji was overrun with tourists. The path that took visitors close — but not inside — the temple had a number of scenic stops, but pretty much, you were ushered in, then you were ushered out. It took about an hour to get there, then half an hour to walk through the entire area.
I made a Twitter post about the experience: It was like a line before a ride at an an amusement park, where it snakes all around the attraction till you get there. Then it’s done before you know it. I still got some nice pictures out of it, though.
The bus ride back to the inn was not pleasant. I hopped onto an "express" bus that had only two stops. But I stood up the entire time, and it took the bus 1 1/2 hours to reach Kyoto station.
I probably wouldn’t have minded as much if I could have gauged where we were. The raised platform toward the back of the bus prevented me from looking out the window. I didn’t feel extroverted enough to ask someone how close we were to the station.
I was so happy to arrive at the station.