Kyoto: Places like her have an internal rhythm unique to them. Time seems to move depending on how much the distant past lives on and mingles with the present. No matter how determined it is to rush forward, it is tempered by the weight of history it carries.
Kyoto offered us a change of pace and it’s just what we needed. We started the trip literally high on Nagashima’s extreme rides and the two days in Osaka were spent on a walking+shopping marathon. We said our goodbyes to giant octopuses and the clumsy energy of Dotonbori in favor of nostalgia, some refinement, and the quiet elegance of geishas.
The night we arrived was thankfully an uneventful one. Luggages in tow and ready to crash, we went straight to finding our AirBnb accommodation tucked somewhere in a residential neighbourhood. It was just past 8PM and yet there were hardly any people on the streets.
Our days always started late. Blame it on the rain and the futons, we were too happy to stay indoors and pretend like we’re sushi rolls. The house we rented was a machiya, a traditional wooden townhouse. But like everything else in this city, it has already undergone many changes.
Like it or not, Kyoto isn’t the old city that most of us expect it to be. Rather, I realize it’s a modern one, which just happens to have LOTS of memories.
The area around Kyoto station probably gets the most ire from those who wanted more antiquity. Granted, steel isn’t something you’d expect to greet you when you’re primed to be visiting a historic city, but for me, I was more fascinated than disappointed by it. It’s obviously the symbol of a perennial “power struggle”, which places with rich heritage have to contend with. And now more than ever, it must be really hard to make decisions for the future when there are centuries worth of considerations.
How does one pick what gets erased and what gets to stay?
Meanwhile in the eastern districts of Gion and Higashiyama, memory lanes abound. Shijo-dori, its main thoroughfare, is lit not with neon brights but with red lanterns. The streets and alleyways that surround it were crowded with outsiders like us looking in, hoping to be let in on a secret or two.
Speaking of secrets, there are places where people share them willingly. There are thousands of them in this city, and perched on hilly terrain still on the eastern side is Kiyomizudera. Love is Kiyomizudera’s specialty, they say. Too bad I only learned about this post-trip. I could use an extra wish. ♥♥♥
A little rain can’t dampen a beauty so effortless, especially when it’s autumn. We turned our sights to the west side this time for the best views. Looking at Arashiyama’s mountains while onboard the Sagano Romantic Train I wondered, do trees talk amongst themselves on who gets to succumb to autumn first?
The fog crept in and scenes painted in autumn palette slowly passed by our window as the train journeyed the same way as the river.
Down the same river is Togetsukyo bridge. There had been many versions of it over the past thousand years, and yet its purpose remained unchanged. In a roundabout way I was reminded, we really are creatures of habit. No matter how much time passes, we would always want the same things – like how we’d always feel a need to be connected.
Togetsukyo bridge also marks the point where the Oi River becomes the Katsura River. Similarly, the day the sun decided to show up brightly in the sky was the time for my family to leave Kyoto and head back home to Manila. It’s the end of the trip for them while I had another week to wander around Japan.
I had a full day to spend before moving on to my next destination. I guess being clingy can be contagious ‘coz I found myself back in Arashiyama when there were a thousand other things left for me to see.
Oh well. At the very least, there were a few things I did differently. Like for instance, trying out a different route.
It ran slow, but it’s ok. I had more than enough time to burn. The Keifuku tram or The Randen as Kyotoites would call it is the last of its kind in this part of the country. From my hostel in downtown Kyoto, I made my way to Keifuku line’s nearest stop: Shijo-Omiya station. There were eleven stops in between this station and Arashiyama station, and several kilometers worth of glimpses into the mundane, the irrelevant yet refreshing non-postcardable side of things.
I’m not sure if it was just good timing or if this route really is hardly taken by other tourists. In any case, it was nice to have that moment when I was the only person lost in translation. The second I stepped foot at Arashiyama, it was back to you and me make touristy.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hating. In fact, when I was traveling on my own, the sight of another traveler is somehow comforting. In the same place and time, we were forming our own different memories. Similar experiences but perceived in infinite ways. It’s cool if you think of it this way. Don’t you think?
Also to me, it will always boil down to this: Seek and you shall find. Your own corner is just right there waiting for you. I didn’t even have to look very far to find my very own kaleidoscope world.
But it did take me a short bus ride to find my tribe in Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple. The thing is, I can be subtle and quiet, but I can’t do elegant. All the prettiness around me tired me out at some point, so it was great to have discovered a space for the awkward ones.
That afternoon, I made friends and hung out with 1200 rakan statues. Each of them has their own unique personality. There’s the old fart, the jokester, the cutie pie, the lovers, the bashful, the life of the party, the pious, and so on.
And then there was the drinking couple. I imagine them as boisterous and in between hiccups asking me to take one for the road. Perhaps they sensed that it was my turn to leave this place behind.
Spot on. The next day I was hauling my backpack hopping on a bus headed for Nagoya, off to meet a new place.
Like the changing of seasons, we carry on just like that. The more I think about it, it seems to me that most leavings are the no fuss ones. We acknowledge the need to move with the slight wave of the hand and a silent sayonara.
From time to time, we’ll remember bits and pieces. Reminded that at some point, we connected. Thankful for the memories, always.