After a fast paced 2 weeks helping artists get their artwork ready for exhibition and then helping them leave the residency, it was finally time for a few days off. As Shiro Oni is not a normal workplace, vacation days here are scheduled around when the artists are on site and when you would like a break.
One of the places I knew I HAD to go to in Japan was Kyoto – it is truly a beautiful city. One moment you are walking around a bamboo forest, the next surrounded by centuries old shrines and temples. Needless to say, Kyoto did not disappoint.
Upon arriving in Kyoto, the first stop was the Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine, the most visited shrine in Kyoto. You might recognize it, as everyone who has visited Kyoto has to get a picture with the iconic red arches. The arches are common in other shrines too, but what makes Fushimi Inari special is the sheer number of them, there are more than 10,000! They are perched up the side of a small mountain, and many hike up through them. If you plan to go, I would highly recommend hiking through the entire thing. There are maps along the route that seem questionably to scale, so it makes the top look forever away. But in reality, it is not. Plus, if you go all the way to the top, you can stop at the lookout points, and there are less and less people as you ascend. However, make sure to bring your own water or buy some before getting there, the prices at the top of the mountain are very high!
As many of the artists were travelling after the exhibition, it was a wonderful opportunity to meet up with some new friends in Kyoto! How fun is it to watch a toddler have fun in a cat café? And then go out and get all you can eat yakiniku, where you grill your own meat of your choice! Kyoto treats a food lover well. There are little food shops at every corner, with amazing ramen or a quick red bean taiyaki (little fish waffles! One of my favorites.) Or you can try the local sweets, nama yatsuhashi, doughy candies with different fillings.
The other two must do’s in Kyoto are: the bamboo forest and visiting as many temples or shrines as you can. The bamboo forest was humbling and centering. The morning is definitely the time to go, as you can get there before the crowds and have some peace. Visiting shrines and temples can get a little expensive, as many shrines have entrance fees of $5-6. But if you do your research, they are very worth it! We got our recommendations from the artists who had been before, and visited Ryoan-ji, the temple with a rock garden, which we were surprised to find had a large plot of land! We also visited Daigo-ji, a temple that was not frequented tourists, but had a beautiful pagoda as well as a museum!
After Kyoto, the rest of the trip was visiting with Nathan’s host family and friends. Nathan studied abroad in Nagoya last semester, which is a short drive from Kyoto. So we decided to hit Nagoya on the way back and catch up. First, we went into Nagoya and visited Nagoya castle, which was stunning. Then we went to visit his homestay family, who welcomed me into their home with open arms despite never meeting me before that day! They were truly the nicest family even as I did my best but clearly could not speak Japanese. They took us on a cormorant fishing trip, which included a boat ride while eating a giant bento box, and then an after sunset cormorant fishing spectacular. It was quite a fascinating experience. The next day, we visited Nanzan University, where I met the sweetest people who bought me bread, gave me sweets, and took pictures with me despite only meeting me 15 minutes prior. This experience is accurate for almost everyone I have met in Japan so far. I completely fumble my way through Japanese or just end up smiling and say ‘sumimasen’ because I do not understand, and then everyone is so incredibly sweet back! Kindness here is contagious.
The first trip is in the books, I cannot wait to see other parts of Japan! Thanks for welcoming me.