Last Saturday, I went to Kyoto with some Japanese friends and Rogue, a Nara JET. I woke early (on my effing weekend) and hopped the train to Nara. From Nara, I met up with Rogue and we took the train to Inari Station in Kyoto together. We had to take a local train to Inari Station so it took about an hour to get there.
Side Note: Living in Nara is amazing. Not only is Nara the cultural capital of Japan, but Nara is smack-dab in the middle of the Kansai Region. To the north, Kyoto. To the West, Osaka and Kobe. I live less than an hour from all the wonderful places in Japan. Awesome.
Rogue and I met up with the rest of the crew and we ventured into Fushimi Inari Taisha (a shrine). This shrine is amazing. The entrance is adorned with a LARGE orange gate. Once we reached the inside, we partook of some shrine rituals.
1. Shrines and temples do have a way to make money from followers and tourists. Usually they sell charms, souvenirs, and even fortunes. I paid a small pittance for my fortune. How it's done: I shake a case full of sticks with numbers on them. Whichever stick falls out of the case first is my number. I tell the number to the priest and he retrieves my fortune from his archive of bullshit.
-West is a good direction.
-Someone who is annoying at first, will be okay soon.
-More bullshit that I don't remember anymore
Another tradition at this particular shrine is called the Omoikaruishi (literally: Heavy Light Rocks). These are stones that sit atop small placements. If one lifts the stones and they are light, one will have good luck. If the stones are heavy, one will have bad luck. I tried it. Honestly, they were kind of light...so hurray!
The march up the mountain is wonderful. The entire trail is adorned with orange gates. It was like walking through a piece of art. Just beautiful.
The top of the shrine isn't really impressive. There is a small altar and some statues, but nothing worth seeing. The best place is the lookout about halfway up the mountain. I could see all of Kyoto from this lookout. It was absolutely breathtaking.
There is a ninja-themed restaurant in Kyoto aptly named, "Restaurant Ninja." After taking the train from Fushimi Inari and walking a bit through Kyoto's shopping district (called Sanjo), we finally found it. At the front door, there is a host (dressed as a ninja) who showed us to our table. As we entered the restaurant, I suddenly lost all vision. The place is very dark and it took about 20 seconds for my eyes to adjust. The inside of the restaurant looks like the inside of cave. It is meant to mimic a ninja's "hideout." There is fake moss growing on the walls and random ladders everywhere. We sat down and ordered the lunch special.
I've heard that for dinner, the chef comes out to the table and performs ninja tricks while he cooks the food. I will definitely have to return.
After lunch, we were whisked away to the ninja maze downstairs. We were given little lanterns to find our way through the maze as well as bingo cards. We had to find the kanji on the bingo cards in the maze in order to win the prize at the end. What the host ninja neglected to tell us is that ninjas would be dropping down from the ceiling to scare the shit out of us. Ninjas appeared out of nowhere, then disappeared immediately after making me wet my pants. My favorite ninja scare came at the end. We found the kanji and were just about to exit the maze when a ninja appeared right at the exit. One of my Japanese friends actually screamed like a little girl. It was hysterical. Way to get us while our guards are down Japan!
The prize at the end was A CHANCE to win some free dessert. We drew lots. I didn't win, but it's okay, I got dessert any way. Restaurant Ninja specializes in custard wrapped with a crepe made from black bamboo.
I'm not crazy about the bamboo crepe, but the custard was yummy!
We spent a couple hours walking around Kyoto after lunch. The girls really wanted to do purikura, so we did that too. Purikura are a REALLY popular photo booths in Japan. They tend to white out faces to give everyone an even complexion and they really make the eyes stand out as well. After the pictures were taken, I let the girls customize them on the touch screen. The touch screen displays a vast array of options such as virtual stamps, pictures, clip art, colorful backdrops, borders, and pens that can be superimposed on the photographs. The other guy in the group and I just hung outside and talked about how silly purikura is. Here is a sample they created:
After Purikura, we hit up Starbucks for cocoa and general relaxation. We'd been going nonstop since the morning after all. Following Starbucks we visited another popular shrine at the end of Sanjo street. The shrine is big, but rather unimpressive. Eventually, all shrines start to look the same. The best part about this particular shrine was the food. I bought kobe beef on a stick for 400 yen ($4.50)!!!! It was delicious. They grilled the meat, dipped it in sauce, grilled it again, then served it. It was amazing and inexpensive.
To kill off our amazing day we did two hours of Karaoke. Rogue and I took the express train back to Nara. We slept like babies when we got home.
As John Stewart would say, "here is your moment of zen":