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 [1.23] Kinkakuji, Ryoanji, Kiyomizudera Field Trip Last updated 
27 Mar 1999 

Bussing to Kyoto 23 Jan 1999
Today I woke up early (on a Saturday!) and headed for the JCMU field trip bus. The bus driver of this trip was quite conscious about the apperance of the bus -- we saw him take out a rag and remove tiny spots from the sides of the bus and even from the hubcaps. It was quite interesting. After he was done polishing up the last bits of dirt and all the students were on board, we headed for Kyoto. The bus was actually pretty nice; it had a navigation computer which showed our exact location on a television map. Navigation computers in Japan get their information from CD-ROMs hidden somewhere on the vehicle. This particular map system even showed the location of every Lawson Station (and we counted quite a few on the way to Kyoto!)

No JCMU field trip would be complete without a stop at a greasy lunch rest stop. Here's how they work:

First, you get your 1000 yen lunch money from JCMU when you step off the bus. Next, you find the food ticket vending machine. I don't think I would be surprised if I found out that Japan had vending machines that sold houses. There are vending machines for everything over here. Anyway, you choose something, like ebi tempura soba (fried prawn over buckwheat noodles in broth), pop in your 400 yen, and out pops a ticket. You take your ticket to the ladies working behind the counter (like you see the truckdrivers doing here), and they dump your stuff into a bowl in about 15 seconds. Noodles -- splop. Broth -- slosh. Fried prawn -- plop. Processed fish slice -- fwap. Green onions -- sprinkle. It really is the fastest fast food there is. When they're all done, you go to another vending machine to get your drink (like, for example, a meron soda -- "melon soda" in English), and you have lunch! It really is pretty delicious, probably because it's nice and warm. You musn't forget to slurp your noodles, either. I think I'll miss that when returning to the United States (slurping noodles in Japan is not considered rude at all, in case you didn't know).

First Stop: Kinkakuji (The Golden Temple) 23 Jan 1999
After stopping in the parking lot, we all jumped off the bus and got our Kinkakuji ticket from Dr. Scott. Most famous temples have some sort of ticket with a small admission fee (that's paid for by JCMU in the case of a field trip). We proceeded through the front gate and commented on how beautiful the weather was for our field trip. It didn't take very much walking to reach the pond on which the temple was located. It was really a sight that day -- the weather was perfect. Here are some views of the outside of the temple (visitors are not allowed inside):

Kinkakuji offset with some small trees
The whole gang* posing in front of Kinkakuji
A closer view of the temple
Me, looking like a full-blown tourist, beside Kinkakuji
Kinkakuji and its entire reflection
Kinkakuji and surroundings with a digitally-sharpened reflection

(*the gang this time around:
back: Dr. Scott, Allison Morris, Ben McCracken, Chris Houbeck, Daniel Laursen
middle: Jeff Waston, Allen Pollock, Tom Acker, Bob Trombley, Brian Pitaniello, Erin Dewsbury, Sara Petty, Lindsay Proctor, Jim Wu
bottom: Micah Cousins, Elly Bunzendahl, Sam Blair)

The grounds around Kinkakuji were almost completely covered with moss. We saw a few people actually sweeping little rocks and debris off of the moss with a small brush. Here's a lady cleaning in much the same manner.

Before we left the pond area to go behind Kinkakuji, I zoomed as far as I could to catch a snapshot of this bird on a rock. I think it's some sort of crane, but I'm really not that much of an ornithologist.

Behind Kinkakuji was not only a tea ceremony house, but also what looked more like a "real" temple. This temple was actually approachable, and people were using it (burning incense, clapping their hands and praying, etc).

No famous, showy temple would be complete without a tourist shop, and Kinkakuji had a few. Most shops have not only souvenirs but also sweets that you can buy as gifts for someone else. Many are based on sweet bean paste (you certainly see a lot of it in Japan), but one shop had a pretty impressive flower made out of candy.

In addition to pure tourist items (postcards, keychains, etc), they also sold good luck charms (omamori). A good luck charm is a piece of cardboard wrapped with cheap woven thread and attached to a string. Each charm brings a certain kind of protection or luck. They usually cost about 400 yen a piece. This temple had nice "jenglish" translations for us foreigners, too! Here are two views of some of the the bins of omamori at Kinkakuji:

View 1 (traffic accident, baby)
View 2 (bad thing, traffic accident)
(If you have a good eye, you can catch one other type of omamori in the background of View 2).

Yes, Japanese people sometimes do buy the traffic accident ones and hang them in their cars. My precious material of choice is plastic, not cardboard, though, so I spent my money on other items. :)

Next Stop: Ryoanji (Temple and Rock Garden) 23 Jan 1999
After seeing a sight as splendid as Kinkakuji, I think I had the wrong idea as to what would come next. All I knew was that we were seeing a famous "rock garden." Everyone raved about its beauty, so I was anxious to check it out.

We entered the gate and first came to a walkway around a pond. The pond had a small island with a torii gate and a shrine. Notice the leaning tree tree being supported by wooden bracers. Many times in Japanese gardening, trees that would otherwise break or fall are supported by such devices.

Here's Jim Wu, Cherokee, Dr. Scott, and a few others checking out the shrine behind the torii gate.
Here I am, standing under the torii gate, wondering what I'm going to take a picture of next.

On the small island there were rocks with aprons. At the time, I thought it was strange, but at the time of this writing, I've seen so many of them that it seems normal. Apparently they (they are usually some sort of Buddhist statue) have different meanings at different temples, so I won't even begin to conjecture.

When I finally got to the rock garden area, I took off my shoes, donned some slippers about 2 sizes too small, and walked on a creaky wooden floor toward the garden. Everyone was saying that you should be quiet in the rock garden, so as not to destroy the mood. Before I got to the actual garden, I walked past some sections of a temple or house. Here's one section, with some pantings on the doors, a drum, and tatami mats lining the floor.

I reached the rock garden and sat down. It was pretty simple. It's about 30 meters long by 10 meters wide, contains 15 rocks, some moss, raked pebbles, and a clay wall. At first I didn't quite understand what the fuss was about. Here are some pictures:

The garden from one corner
An "island" of moss and rocks on a sea of pebbles
A closeup of the previous
A very strange (large) digitally-stitched garden picture

(In the last picture you can see some people seated, viewing the garden.)

That's basically it. Of course the pictures don't do it justice, but it's pretty stark. I think I understand it a little better now. When you view it, you're supposed to sit silently and contemplate. You're supposed to break your daily pattern of thought about traffic, grades, time, money, customers, or whatever else it is that you fret about. I think I was too busy taking pictures to realize this at the time, though. Those are the sacrifices I have to make as "Dan in Japan." :)

After viewing the garden quietly, I walked around the rest of the area and saw a few interesting sights. Since most temples are made of wood (and sometimes only wood), they usually have some means of extinguishing a fire. Here are the fire extinguishers for the building next to the rock garden.

Across from the rock garden building, someone pointed out a tree growing through the roof of another building. It was hard to get a clear shot at it, but I tried my best. I wonder what will happen in 20 years...

After that I put my shoes back on and walked around the grounds a bit. I saw a big white metal thing (more specifically referred to as a pale metallic object of considerable size). I have no idea what it is, but it looked interesting. More interesting was a path through some interestingly-cut trees. The trees were cut very low to the ground, and were still growing by sending lots of branches out and around the main trunk. They also made beautiful shadows.

Before it was time to return to the bus, I caught a picture of another student's vending machine treasure. Asahi Gourmet Corn Potage. (A generous helping of cream has been added to quality sweet corn to create this hearty soup. Savor its full-bodied rich flavor.) Corn potage is actually pretty popular in Japan.

You see, in Japan, one ingests corn in three different ways. Number one: drink it from a can. Number two: eat it on pizza with mayonnaise. Number three: eat four pieces of it inside of a fried potato "croquette". That's about it for corn. Oh, and you can also buy shrinkwrapped corn on the cob in the supermarket. But enough about corn. Let's move on to Kiyomizudera!

Last Stop: Kiyomizudera (Pure Water Temple) 23 Jan 1999
Kiyomizudera is located on the top of a large hill on the east side of Kyoto. Our bus dropped us off some way down the hill, so we get to walk up for a while. The path up the hill ("teapot lane") is lined with shops selling everything from tea to trinkets to pickled radishes. I breezed right by most of them because I wanted to be sure I didn't get left behind.

At the end of the shops one sees two of the temple's gates. Here's a picture of just the first. For the second, some JCMU students gathered on the steps for this group photo (Allen Pollock, Elly Bunzendahl, Ben McCracken, Jim Wu, Jeff Watson, Daniel Laursen, Cherokee Cain, Sam Blair).

Walking past these gates, I snapped a photo of the huge bell and took a vertical panorama (digitally stitched) of the pagoda structure. Here's a closeup of the same.

Walking toward the prettier of the two gates, I snapped this photo, showing both the roof of the gate and part of the pagoda. Here's a 2x2 stitched panorama of the gate (Allison Morris poses for perspective). If you stand next to the gate, you can see the buildings of Kyoto below. There were a number of beautiful views from this temple. Here are some JCMU students looking out over the scenery (Jeff Watson, Tom Acker, Allison Morris). In this photo you can see the stilts that hold some of Kiyomizudera level as it juts out from the hill.

Past the gates and pagodas, I stopped to take a picture of some of the construction going on while we were there. I had seen Japanese road/landscaping machinery before, but I hadn't taken a picture of it, so I got one here. It's so small!

Further in there was a structure with lots of wooden boards hanging from it. I've seen them before at temples, and I remember them have a purpose relating to wishes or prayers or something similar. Next to that there was a very low roof. You can see the detail in the roof tiles in this picture. These sorts of roof tiles are quite popular with temples, and similar ones are used for houses in Japan most of the time, too.

Next I saw some familiar sights. First was the water basin with dragon statue, then there was the part of Kiyomizudera that looked like the "temple part." Walking past buildings like this and this, I was beginning to get a feel for this Japanese temple stuff. Inside one of the temples was a Buddha statue, and a statue of someone else (I can't identify). There were also quite a few rock statues with aprons just off in the weeds a few feet from the walking path.

I ventured along the hillside for a while, and took a look back toward the temple site. You can see the city, the hill, and the temple buildings against a nice sky.

Kiyomizudera is famous for its fountains. After walking away and back, I finally came upon them. There are three fountains, and you are only "allowed" to drink from one. I don't remember the exact attributes, but I think one was for beauty, one was for health or strength, and one was for wisdom. I'm not sure which was which. Here are some people reaching out with ladles for a stream of water.

After stopping at a little restaurant stand for a beverage, some of us ventured off toward a clearing in the trees. It turned out to the entrance to a cemetary. And what a cemetary it was! I walked as far as I could toward the setting sun, but the cemetary just kept on going. It was huge! There was even some guy living in the middle of the place. I turned around as the sun was setting, and took several pictures to be later digitally stitched into this large panorama. This picture shows maybe 10% of the stones of the entire cemetary. As it was getting dark, I noticed that it didn't feel "creepy" like it does in an American cemetary after dark. I wonder why...

End of the Field Trip 23 Jan 1999
At the end of Kiyomizudera you got to decide whether to ride the bus back to JCMU or to stay in Kyoto and provide yourself with your own way home. Many people stayed (as did I). We headed to a popular hangout spot for gaijin (foreigners) called the "Pig & Whistle Pub". It's a pub decorated fully in UK style, complete with Guiness on tap. Yummy! Real beer! Only 800 yen for a pint... Ouch.

Some people wanted to stay up all night in Kyoto partying, but not all of us. We headed out on the streets to walk around for a while, and then caught a train back to Hikone.

And of course you can't return to the dorm at night without first hitting up Lawson Station for a little snack (or next morning's breakfast if you're planning that far ahead). I dunno what I'd do without Lawson Station... :)

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