Samantha in Japan

The Great Outdoors

Posted on: March 2, 2009

** This entry was written over the span of two days. I started writing on Sunday night/Monday morning, but I finished this entry on Monday night/Tuesday morning. Just for reference if you’re like, “WTF? Get this girl some rest, she can’t even get the date right.” **

Well, look at that. Sunday night already. Well– technically, Monday morning for me. Being the constant insomniac that I’ve always been, here I am, sitting at my laptop at around 3:15 AM (this is still “early” for me, folks, don’t worry), sorting through my pictures and working on another blog post.

The problem: I went a little picture crazy this weekend.

I took somewhere around 145 pictures within the span of two days.

… now, seriously, what the hell could I have been doing that prompted me to take one hundred and forty-five pictures?!

Touring temples and being outdoors.

It’s kind of funny the lengths we’ll go to in order to find and document pretty things. Taking 145 pictures came about as an afterthought, for me. Yuuki said he wanted to take me to Arashiyama this weekend, so I was like, hey, okay! At this point, I can honestly say I came to Japan for the culture, but I fell in love with the nature along the way. This sort of opposes the thoughts I have on, say, Iceland. People always laugh when I say it, but I do just want to go to Iceland one day. Why? Because it’s so damn pretty. I fell in love with Iceland through pictures. Is seeing it up close worth the cost of the trip one day? Yes. Well, I hope so, at least.

Anyway, back to Japan– I really do seem to just happen upon pretty things here, rather than actively tracking them down myself, but the truth is… they’re all over the place! Some of the cities here can be a terrible, terrible eyesore at times. I was doing a reading assignment for a class a week or two ago, and I couldn’t help but to nod my head in fervent agreement with part of the text–

Any watcher of anime or reader of manga is accustomed to the conventions of its urban settings: the jumble of skyscrapers mashed together at sometimes bizarre angles and stretching endlessly into the deep horizon, the oppressive and impersonal sameness of every block in Akira’s futurustic neo-Tokyo, the narrow back alleys and circuitous side streets into which characters disappear– or have dramatic, yet isolated, confrontations. Like many anime heroes and heroines, the city seems to metastasize into a monstrositiy, a marvel of the artists’ imagination.

But those who actually visit Tokyo, Yokohama, or Osaka are likely to realize that the city scenes in anime are not that much of a stretch. Urban layouts in Japan are a far cry from what our minds have absorbed if we are coming from New York or London, or, for that matter, Beijing or Shanghai.

Bombed-out Japanese urban centers rose from the ashes of World War II at record speeds, and in some respects, they look it: an ancient temple and garden in the shadow of a fifty-story sky-scraper, adjacent to a dilapidated two-story hulk of wood and rusting iron, leaning to one side and missing a door; nameless streets dotted with fluorescent-lit convenience store chain outlets, all of which look exactly the same; a dead-end alleyway with a leafy grove on one side and a garish pub, an Italian restaurant, and a family cemetery on the other. Not a few western commentators and tourists, especially from older generations, find Japan’s urban hodgepodge decidedly ugly.

On the micro level, the contemporary Japanese city is like a maze, or a Gordian knot never completely untangled. On the macro level, it is either a vision of a thrilling, almost incomprehensible mass landscape– or terrifying proof of the human capacity for unchecked development, cancerous construction. Japan’s river banks are encased in concrete, as are most of its shorelines, many unnecessary walkways, and the now notorious public works projects: country roads leading to nowhere. Japan’s bucolic tree-lined streets are rare and treasured.
Roland Kelts, “japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S.”

People are short on space here. In the cities, if families are lucky enough to have them, their yards are four feet wide and stuffed with what little decorations and plants they can fit. There’s barely any (if any) space between neighboring houses.

But don’t fret just yet! There’s still countryside, and, well, reserved nature/tourist spaces. The Osaka Castle was set apart from the city of Osaka almost entirely– it was its own, peaceful little sanctuary, surrounded by trees and water. If you climbed to the top of the castle, you could look out and see the skyline of the city, but if you avoided that route, it was all too easy to forget that just outside of the castle grounds, the second-largest city in Japan was alive and well.

This weekend, as I mentioned earlier, I went touring around some temples, led by two Gaidai-sei, on Saturday, and went to Arashiyama with Yuuki on Sunday.

Let me just remind you that you’re getting the abridged version here, in terms of photos before I get started. We all clear? All right, here we go.

We got out of the train station in Kyoto, and the first thing that we were greeted with was this massive, old-fashioned building. Our “tour guides” told us that it was a place used for kabuki (traditional Japanese theater) performances. It was absolutely gargantuan, so I couldn’t capture much of it, but it was really cool-looking–

As we headed up the street, our tour guides gave us a tiny lesson in Kyoto-ben (Kyoto dialect/slang) before we got up to the first temple, whose name I was never told.

As we walked in, my friends and I found a little table where you could get your fortune. I did one of these back at Kiyomizu Temple when I went a few weeks ago– you shake a big, wooden block, and inside there are numbered sticks that rattle around. Whenever you want to stop shaking the block, you turn it upside down, and a single stick will fall out a small hole in the bottom. You look at the number, tell the guy taking the monies what it is, and he gives you a paper with your fortune on it for approximately 150 yen.

I got a terrible fortune when I was at Kiyomizu, so I was like, ahh, what the hell, maybe it’ll be different this time. So I shook the block, tipped it over, looked at the stick, my tour guides crowded around, and we all simultaneously erupted into screeches of–


Yon is the number four. Four is considered an unlucky number in Japan. Four actually has two pronunciations– yon and shi. Shi has the same pronunciation as death.

Great. Before I even read my fortune, it sucked. Regardless, I headed over to the money man and got my fortune. I unrolled the scroll, my tour guides gathered around, we read a few of the words, before simultaneiously erupting into screeches of–

“Yabaaaaaaaaaai! Yabai, yabai! EEEEE?! EEEEEE?” (Slang for like… dangerous, no good, etc.)

Another bad fortune. Hooray. The tour guides translated some of the tougher parts for me– something about having poor fortune if I have a fake heart. (I impassionedly protested to them, in Japanese, that I didn’t have a fake heart!) Either way, they decided that I should tie up my bad fortune and attach it to a big string of paper– so thaaaat’s what those things are for! The picture below is actually from Arashiyama, but you get the gist of it. So, yeah, if you get a bad fortune– tie it up on a string! It’s like a polite, “GTFO!!”

After that little fiasco, we headed further up the grounds. There were some pretty sights along the way– a big willow tree at the very top of a hill, another massive tree that hadn’t bloomed yet, but looked to cool not to grab a picture of (pictured below), and a guy surrounded by pigeons (this guy had one on his KNEE! Crazy!)

One of the prettiest spots around this place was this long walkway leading up to a different section of the temple grounds. There was a bamboo wall enclosing one side of a long stone path, with little channels cut in on the two sides of the path where water flowed.

At the top of the path were a few more cool-looking buildings and statues– including a huge, HUGE Buddha statue way out in the distance (that one didn’t make the pictures’ cut, sorry! But trust me, it was HUGE.)

When we headed back down the path again and back out onto the main street leading around the temple, but we all came to a stop when we suddenly noticed a splash of color out of the corners of our eyes.

Spring’s approaching, however slowly that may be, and the trees and flowers are starting to bloom. We couldn’t help but leap at the chance for a photo op in front of a just-blooming ume tree.

We headed out of the temple grounds and out onto the streets of Kyoto again, with our tour guides leading the way. For a while, we all followed behind them, marveling at the things in little tourist shops along the way. After a good deal of walking, though, I felt like I’d been in the area before…

That little fan shop… geez, that looks familiar. Wait, that funny painted statue of the old woman? I could swear I’ve seen that somewhere before. Those stone steps… didn’t I walk up those? Oh, look, it’s that ninja dog again–


You guys have no idea how excited I was just at the fact that I recognized this place– in Japan, where everything looks the same, I actually remembered what these particular crowded streets looked like.

Turns out the girls were taking us up to Kiyomizu. I didn’t mind going back– it was pretty there the first time. Unfortunately, when we got there, a lot of things were closing up. One of my friends did the “love walk” from the two love stones to the other, and safely made it (with some intervention on my behalf– hey, she was about to trample a little kid!)– I think I mentioned the details of that in my post about Kiyomizu. Near the entrance of Kiyomizu, there was a gorgeous tree that was starting to bloom and was showing its colors quite nicely.

Another view with the tree in it, looking down on the city of Kyoto below–

After exploring what was still open of Kiyomizu for a bit, we headed back down into the streets (but not before running into a giant tree… growing through a concrete bridge! — pictured below), shopped a bit, and saw a few cute, quaint little sights.

This one was just a pretty park along the way–

I’m not entirely sure what this was, but it was cute. Side note– no matter where you go in Japan, you’ll find cute things. Seriously. Hello Kitty– everywhere. Cute little statues like this– everywhere. Cute… sidewalks (seriously, the ones near the school’s main gate have chibi animals drawn on them)– you’ll find them. Cute $10 bags– in no short supply. This is both amazing and terrible on my wallet. Anyway, yeah, I think the statues had something to do with folklore about protecting children.

We even found an entire store dedicated to Miyazaki Hayao’s work! (Google him and WORSHIP if you don’t know who he is already.) Everything in there was cute… just… not cheap!

After shopping around, we headed out for some noms (I got shio ramen, for the record), and called it a night. Well, I did a little shopping at the train station before officially calling it a night, but we headed back to the dorms after that.

I didn’t get much time to rest before I was off on my next trip. I got up early (well, early for me) on Sunday morning to head over to Arashiyama. I agreed to meet Yuuki at a train stop closer to him, and halfway into the trip from my dorm to Kyoto. That was the first time I used the trains alone, actually. It was pretty cool, just traveling along on my own and chilling out. I had to take a bus to get to the train station, so when I got on, I grabbed myself a seat, popped in my earbuds from my iPod, and zoned out until I got to the station, grabbed my ticket, and navigated myself around to find the right platform. I felt… so Japanese. Haha. So, yeah, I met Yuuki halfway, and we headed up to Kyoto together. Once we got into Kyoto, we wandered around a little to find a smaller train station, and eventually got on this super gorgeous old-fashioned train. It was decked out in brown and gold colors, ornate little accent paitings along the side of the train– it looked like something right out of a movie.  After that train ride, we got off at Arashiyama.

As a forewarning, there’s no possible way that pictures can even convey how gorgeous this place was. I took a ton here, especially, because, just… augh, it was absolutely stunning. The minute we got through the main gate, we spotted some pretty architecture, and… trees starting to bloom!

If I’m this impressed by just-blooming trees now, barely sporting any color just yet, I’m going to be absolutely blown away by the end of the month, when the weather warms up and the flowers really start to bloom.

A little walk down this long stone path led us to a small temple. We didn’t end up going inside (there was a line and a fee, so we passed on it, haha), but it was pretty from the outside.

Just past the temple was a huge tract of land that was just stunning to look at. Like I said before, there’s no way these pictures can accurately give you all a sense of what the place is like. The pictures are pretty, sure, but the place was absolutely surreal at times.

There were more trees blooming–

A close-up–

The walkways were lined with short, bamboo fences, and led the way toward hills covered entirely with trees and moss.

Long, stone stairways cut a path up the hills to small outcroppings, where you could get a better view of all the land below.

There were a few small lakes in the middle of the grounds, surrounded by gorgeous foliage, and filled with the most gigantic koi fish I’ve ever seen.

This next picture isn’t of some temple building, as pretty as it is. It’s a restaurant! Poor Yuuki was hungry, and pouted when he turned back around to let me know that it was closed. The bright lights you can see through the door aren’t from a television– that’s a stained-glass window on the other side.

All of the paths in this area ultimately led to one place– the famous bamboo grove. The weather was a little overcast, so the sky was still bright, but the sun wasn’t glaring through the trees. It’s my personal favorite kind of weather (I don’t know, light grey skies appeal to me more than blue ones, but maybe I’m just weird), so I was in love with the entire scene before me.

When you’re walking in the middle of these huge rows of bamboo trees, you feel very, very small. There was a little wind, so the tops of the trees were swaying back and forth like crazy. From the outside of the grove, it looked like the entire forest was about to come crashing down whenever the wind blew, but inside, those things were as sturdy as could be.

There were some trees of different… species, I suppose they’re called, mixed among the bamboo, too.

See, this next picture demonstrates what I was talking about– the light in this photo isn’t from the bright rays of a sun, uncovered by clouds. No, the sun wasn’t in sight a lot that day, but the sky was just bright enough to give off this light that filtered in through the bamboo trees.

This next photo is just a close-up on one of the bamboo trees, with some ivy crawling up another tree behind it.

We spent a good deal of time just walking through this grove, snapping pictures and admiring the scenery, but when we finally decided to head out, we found ourselves still surrounded by bamboo– whether it was cut down and made into the doors and walls lining the path out of the grove, or another small bamboo forest enclosing a road leading out into the small city surrounding the park.

We headed over to the Togetsukyo Bridge– a very famous spot in the Arashiyama area. It’s apparently gorgeous when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, but I thought it was gorgeous as it was then!

From the bridge, you could see gorgeous views of the surrounding city and the mountains in the background.

This one’s one of my personal favorite photos out of the bunch–

After a walk along the bridge, we went back into the city in search of some snackage. I had an ice cream cone with four flavors in it– but not your, uh, typical American four flavors. Japanese style– vanilla tofu, green tea, “brown tea” (whatever that is), and plain vanilla. I’m not a fan of tofu at all, and I could taste it in the vanilla tofu portion, but luckily, it was at the top, so I got that out of the way first. My favorite was the “brown tea” flavor.

We headed back to the little train station, but once we saw that we had a while to wait for the next train to take us back into Kyoto (well, the main part of Kyoto, anyway), we spotted a place where you could take a… foot bath! Yuuki convinced me to join him, and it actually turned out to be pretty nice. The water’s hot as all hell. My skin was two-toned when I left the bath– I looked like I’d gotten a really bad sunburn on my feet alone! But it was really relaxing. I snapped a sneaky picture when the other people there weren’t looking, shh!

Once we got back into Kyoto, Yuuki and I found ourselves with unhappy stomachs (we really just ate junk all day, to be honest) so we tracked down an actual restaurant.

Wanna guess what it was?


I was overjoyed. I’d been craving Italian food for… a month? Real Italian food. Not… microwaveable pasta, that is. So when I saw the restaurant, my heart was set on eating there. I had some amazing spaghetti dish with a cream sauce and… ham, I think, and just… omg. ❤ The pasta was actually AL DENTE! AL. DENTE. I was in love, and my stomach was satisfied.

After dinner, we headed back to the Kyoto train station. When we walked inside and got smashed in between a flood of people, Yuuki looked around, turned back to me, pointed up, and asked, “Do you want to see?” I laughed– “See what?” He headed away from the crowds, out toward an opening leading into another section of the station, and beckoned me along– “It’s beautiful up here, come on.” So I followed after him as we found an escalator– no, a series of escalators leading up to the very top of the station. We jumped off one of the escalators about halfway to catch a view of the Kyoto Tower, all lit up, and just… absolutely IN YOUR FACE. It was so close! After I marveled at it, Yuuki brought me back toward the escalators and we headed up even further. At the very, very top of the station, there’s a cute little man-made park– benches and trees and all, overlooking the entire city of Kyoto. I think I’ve mentioned it in an earlier post– I think cities are absolutely gorgeous at night, when they’re all lit up and you can see lights for miles and miles out. And there it was– the entire city of Kyoto at night down below for me to see. It was a fantastic end to the day.

So, all in all, it was quite an incredible weekend. Kyoto is such a stunning place.

I’m currently tired as all hell. I’ve gone on some kind of trip/outing (whether day or night) for the last five days in a row. Today, I finally started spotting the signs of sleep deprivation hitting me. See, when I’m sleep deprived an in a bad mood, I turn into a complete zombie, near unresponsive and zoning out all the time. When I’m sleep deprived and in a good mood, I act like I’m a happy drunk. Everything is ten times funnier than it should be. That’s what I was like today– wobbling around, giggling for extended periods of time at things that were slightly funny, bouncing around in my seat while I was eating a donut, gesturing wildly… yep, yep, check. Got all the symptoms.

So, Samantha, what’s your solution?! Get some rest, right?

Of course not, silly! It’s 3:15 AM, and I have a 9:00 class. It takes ~30 minutes for me to get ready, and then 30 minutes to walk to school from the Seminar House. This means I’ll be waking up around 8:00. So… by time I’m ready for bed, I’ll probably end up with 3 and a half to 4 hours of sleep tonight.

I wonder if I’ll be in zombie-sleep-deprived or drunk-sleep-deprived mode tomorrow…

5 Responses to "The Great Outdoors"

This scenery is simply amazing. I can well understand why you keep going back for more. The trees are just spectacular. One of the best photos in this group was within the bamboo trees. What a great place for a picnic (if they allow such a thing in their beautiful parks). I can honestly say, I have never seen a picture of a bamboo tree; only of a panda eating some bamboo shoots.

That ice cream cone looked so delicious but I agree about the tofu; not exactly my favorite either, however, the Japanese certainly know how to present just about anything to delight the taste buds.

So now I know where Charlie Brown originated. When I saw that cute little stone Japanese man with the red shirt, Charlie was the first thing to come to mine.

I would have loved to see the view from top of the train station (or escalator). How magnificent. It sounds like Yuki is one great guide to have around.

Here, our March is coming in like a lion with some heavy snowfall, more towards southern New York. We have lightly falling snow up here and expected high winds later on. Just enough to make driving miserable but I decided not to go into Albany today once I heard the forecast.

Japan is going to be 100 times more gorgeous when spring comes. What a beautiful country. You are so lucky to have been able to participate in the educational program and get to experience all of this culture. Did you get over to Hiroshima yet? I’m anxious to hear about that visit. So the Japanese know how to make wonderful Italian foods as well.. That pasta dish sounded delicious. I just finished up with a nice slice of calzone with some marinara sauce. Do they have that over there too?

From one insomniac to another, try to get a little shut-eye. It’s tough when the active mind refuses to shut down for a good night’s sleep.

Aunt Sandy

have a look from the camera all about the Shanghai!! You’ll change your mind and love it more!!

Glad to see you are having fun!
Nice pictures, Arashiyama was one of the most beautiful places in Kyoto. The Sagano bamboo grove and Tenryuji temples are really nice. Did you get to ride the Toroko train along the valley?

@Darrell– Arashiyama was absolutely gorgeous! I wasn’t able to ride the Toroko train, but it sounds like it’s nice! I may be going back sometime, so maybe then! 🙂

No, there can’t be two ninja dogs in Kyoto. But in April it was in Arashiyama!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

  • None
  • Isa: No, there can't be two ninja dogs in Kyoto. But in April it was in Arashiyama!
  • Paula: Hey: I'm so glad you are swine flu-free. A little over-kill, don't you think? Anyway, I'm so glad you are enjoying your last few days there. Live it u
  • Paula: There's no place like home, there's no place like home!!! Can't wait to see you...we are counting the days.


%d bloggers like this: