Teaching In Socks

Light-up situation
December 2, 2009, 5:45 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

Two weeks ago I went to (and this verbatim from the ticket stub) “Scarlett Maples Leaves At Night in Eikando Zenrin-Ji” in Kyoto. Eikando Zenrin-Ji temple is famous for its brilliant fall foliage (and a buddha statue with it’s head turned round like an owl).  Apparently, a few years ago someone at the temple got wise to the fact that the Japanese love technology + everything and realized it would be a great idea to charge people 600 JPY to see the autumn foliage lit up at night. I, on the other hand ,was intelligent enough to pick a holiday weekend in right at the height of tree-viewing season (if such a things exists–which it does) to pay 600 JPY to see trees at night, because I also wanted to wait in line outside the temple beforehand.

I also had the great misfortune of going on a cold and rainy night–which only makes the line-waiting better. Inside, the leaves and lighting dynamics were stunning. I was worth the prcie of admission. However, it was hard to appreciate them while dodging umbrellas. For all the emphasis the Japanese place on respect and social protocol, when a large group of people are gathered in a small public space it might as well be a Metallica concert. Elbows are thrown, common decency is tossed out the window.

Also, my height–compared to that of the average Japanese person–doesn’t bode well for me when umbrellas are involved. It somehow always works out that the rusty brim of the $1 umbrella (so that’s unregulated Chinese rust) that the guy in front of me is holding  is sits right at eye-level.  It’s at times like these that I am thankful that I wear glasses but curious about when my last tetanus shot was. The rule of thumb on tetanus shots of course is: if you have to be curious, it’s been too long.

Still, in retrospect, fun and danger go hand in hand.  While I probably appreciated it less at the time, there really is something to leaves in Kyoto. I’m by no means and expert on the quality of autumn foliage, but the mountain air seems to enhance the saturation of the color in the leaves–or it could just be the lighting.

injury free, master of this domain


I admit, I have a crippling fear of looking like a tourist. I’m not sure if it’s the fanny packs, the stupid sunglasses or the complete naivety to their surroundings, but I know I dread being associated this dangerously curious group. When traveling,  I try to blend in as best as I can, however, in Japan, despite my best efforts this has it’s limitations. Short of wearing a mask at all times, I will always be immediately identified as an outsider (and let’s face it wearing mask doesn’t do much to ameliorate that situation either).

Strangely, one of the personal benefits of Kyoto was the abundance of tourists. To score points with the natives, all I had to do was be a bit more subtle than the loud, pushy Europeans at the next table. Also, for  three days, as I was surrounded by other caucus folk,  I wasn’t a novelty item.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the attention, but being one-of-a-kind goes both ways.

In terms of the city; Kyoto is a fantastic place. It’s rich, historic, nestled among mountains, and you can feel the connection to Japan’s past and the sublime surrounding nature. It’s abundantly clear why Kyoto is a big draw, and some of the ways the foreign influence has changed the city.

Some of the most picturesque and significant sights now primarily serve the visitor’s camera lens and not the people of Kyoto. I won’t lie, I wanted to get some of these places on record with my own camera. They make impressive images to show your friends and make them jealous–and why travel if you can’t make close friends question their own life-choices?  Also, while many of these places can feel like hostile tourist traps centered around a monument, one of the more famous shrines Kiyomizudera still retains it’s spiritual essence and and ability to convey awe. It might have been the large, imposing and menacing looking statues (not pictured) or the fact that the temple sits alongside an impressively high cliff.

Still, I wanted to get as much of a feel as I could of the real attitude of Kyoto, or what the native Kyotocan (Kyotian?) feels every day.  Fortunately, Kyoto has a lively cafe culture that I decided to take advantage of. In between temples, castles and shopping it became culturally necessary to stop for a bit and have a tea/beer. This was my favorite part of the trip. Often these places were of trendy yet humble, modern design, filled with young locals and piping good music through the stereo.  One of them also served bagel sandwiches, and opportunity I did not pass up.

The only time I felt somewhat out of place was when we went to a small organic tea house rumored to have the best chocolate in Kyoto. The house is run by a Japanese confectionist and his wife, who is from Vancouver. Despite the service being run by a white person, the set up was still very formal. No shoes, kneel on the floor and women wore a kimono. Towards the end of the meal, the waitress and began talking. She told me that she used to live in SOHO so I stared updating her about New York, and the changes in the neighborhood, She was quite friendly, but the entire situation made me nervous. Much more uncomfortable  then when someone tries to speak to me in Japanese and I can’t understand (aka all the time). I think what was so unnerving was that in the back of my head, I knew this women had gone through what I had gone through and so she more than anybody would not only  know when I made a faux pas, but perhaps she would even feel embarrassed by me, instead of for me. I’m fine with making a fool out of myself, but i hate it when I let the team down.

eat this, friends.

eat this, friends.

Fortunately for me, within five minutes she started babbling something about how children from the countryside in Japan have much “brighter eyes” because they’re happier, and painting her accent with a hippy tone. Thus, the tables turned  quite abruptly as my Japanese friend started looking at me with wide and confused eyes while I tried not to laugh. I did my best to pretend like this was a normal way to hear a person talk but as soon as we walked out the door impressions of her summer of love accent became the running joke of the trip.

Kyoto in Media
September 24, 2008, 6:15 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

I will provide a written explanation of my trip tomorrow. wanted to get some pictures up for the time being.

(turn up your speakers for some light music)