I’ve thought about Fushimi-Inari a lot since we visited it last week (was that last week? I feel like I’ve been here for years), and I’ve mentioned here about my fascination with Inari a.k.a. fox shrines. Today I returned there, solo, to revisit and take a trek on the Kyoto Trail back to Tofukuji, which is just southwest of Kyoto Station.

I brought my sketchbook so I could do some simple sketches of the various styles of fox statues that appear near the entrance. There are thousands of of fox statues on Mount Inari, from massive to miniature, and they have many looks and personalities. I wanted to sketch the largest and most imposing ones, which are all near the entrance except for one on a fountain about where the path through the torii gates crosses Kyoto Trail.

It was fun to take the time to do even the most minimal sketches, since it gave me a chance to really absorb the shapes, styles, and uniqueness of each of the statues.

There were some rituals occurring in the main area of the shrine. In a small shrine off to the side there were three Shinto priestesses and a priest. One priestess was singing and one was playing a large stringed instrument that lay in the floor. It looked about 15 feet long. Another priestess was doing some sort of ritual dance. She held up the white folded paper object we had seen on some of the torii, and moved her arms in broad arcs.

This priestess sat down and priestess who had been playing the instrument rose. She had some sort of gold ritual object in her hand covered in small bells. At intervals, she would twis her wrist with a sharp movement, causing the bells to jingle. There were about a dozen worshippers sitting on the platform to the side, and at one point they simultaneously bowed their heads and she walked down the row of them, jingling the bells above their heads.

I then went over to the large shrine in the middle, where a priest was chanting in a minor key. I thought it was funny that it was Shabbat again, and again I was at a temple/shrine listening to someone chant in a way that resembled the trope for reading the Torah.

Then I headed up the mountain. It didn’t take very long to get to the crossroads as I wasn’t stopping at every little shrine and side trail. I just revisited the places I especially liked from before.

Once at the crossroads, I sat and ate a savory pastry I had bought at Kyoto station. Then I looked at the map on the signpost for the Kyoto Trail. It took me a few tries before I understood which way it wanted me to go. This would turn out to be true for every signpost I came to. Often I would have to cross-reference with the Trekking in Kyoto map I had bought. (By the way, in case I didn’t mention it, I was very thrilled when I bought that map. It seemed like a key to freedom to have a hiking map). I also learned to read the characters for “Kyoto Trail”.

The first section was fairly woodsy, and I was finally alone in the forest. Not my homey woods of the East Bay Regional Parks, but far from home in a place where I didn’t know the names of any of the birds or butterflies, and hardly any of the plants or trees. It was an exciting feeling. I finally understood why my friend M travels alone to countries where she knows next to nothing about the language or culture. It seems cliche, but you really do get to see the world in a new way.

To my surprise, the Kyoto Trail is not very nature oriented. It wends its way through temples, shrine, and suburban neighborhoods. I pretty much only saw people when I would intersect these places. Otherwise, I was mostly alone on the trail.

After about an hour and a half the trail abruptly ended, and I was dumped into a section of Kyoto I didn’t know, with no indication of where the Tofukuji station was. The map was fairly vague, so I had to rely on my wits and good sense of direction to figure it out. There was some doubling back, but you know I can’t bear to ask for directions. Eventually I was at the station, hurray!

I returned to my ryokan. After a rest and another lunch of cheap crappy udon (we are all quite sick of it), W and headed over to Kyoto Station for a souvenir run in the shops downstairs in a section known as the Cube.

W ended up buying about a dozen animal figurines at this one shop, so while we were waiting for them to be gift wrapped, I went across the way on my quest for a short skirt to wear with my 300¥ (about $3) thigh-high socks I had bought earlier in the trip. I found a gray skort in medium size, and although I think skorts are dumb and wasn’t sure if I was a medium, decided to try it on.

Trying things on in Japan is an entire ritual. The very, very chipper salesclerk takes the item from you and escorts you to the dressing room, even if it is just a couple of feet away. They take the item off the hanger and hand it to you. You remove your shoes before you enter the “room”, and there’s a little rug for you to stand on.

When I was finished, I opened the curtain and the salesclerk was expectantly waiting for me. Bear in mind, this tiny shop was jammed with customers, and I started to blush from all the attention I was receiving. She asked me (in Japanese) if I wanted the item, and she genuinely worried that I might say no. (from here, everything was said to me in Japanese, but it was easy to discern from the context what was being said). She asked me if I wanted her to hold the item for me while I shopped some more, and I said no, I was ready to buy it. She escorted me another five feet to the counter, where we bowed and thanked each other very much.

The cashier looked like she was having the time of her life ringing me up and I thought, how do they do it? How do they look so darn happy?

When I think about it, I used to look pretty happy in my one sort-of retail job, which was working at a video store. But part of my glee was my liberty to be sarcastic if I chose. I was hardly ever sarcastic, but knowing I could be improved my demeanor considerably.

In any case, the weather has turned cold again so I’ll have to wait to wear my new Japanese outfit. In Japan, only young women wear cute and sexy outfits. I am, however, from Oakland where even old women think nothing of a wearing a tight dress or showing cleavage. This isn’t nearly as risque as all that, so as James Brown says, I’m going to get up and do my thing.

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