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A Useful Word in Any Language…

July 22, 2009

(Originally Published 04/11/2007)

Otorhinolaryngologist (ENT doctor) – jibika.  Sure is a lot easier to say in Japanese.  Just another great reason for learning Japanese because you never know when you might need to call one of those guys.

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Today I went to Fushimi-inari with my friend Azucena.  I had no idea what to expect, but man – IT WAS TOTALLY AWESOME!  We rode a very crowded express train from Hirakata-shi and arrived at the quietest train station I’ve seen in the Kansai area.  It was pretty barren, empty, and small and there weren’t any bells or melodies or fake bird calls playing but all the pillars were painted orange (a spiritual color in Japan) and there were foxes painted on all the overhead beams.  We left the station and began heading up the hill and instantly it became a super touristy place.  All the little shops lining the street were crammed with overpriced cutesy souvenirs.  Just about anything that could possibly be made to look like a fox spirit was being hawked by gravelly-voiced salesmen and women.  We reached the large temple at the base of the mountain and there were fox statues everywhere.  The really cool thing about Fushimi-inari is that you can walk through kilometers of orange torii gates thickly lining the path through the forest up to the top of the mountain.  There are also all sorts of side trails to take and almost all of them are lined heavily with torii gates.

After climbing partway up the mountain we came to a small pond at which there were many shrines and a couple of tourist shops.  These shops sold candles, incense, water, and food at highway robbery prices.  Sitting in a tree, perched precariously over the pond, a heron remained motionless, pretending not to be there (that sentence has so many poorly placed commas).  I was very inspired to see the heron out there and we sat next to the pond for awhile watching giant carp swim around lazily.  We found a little side path and wandered off into the forest.  There are two main types of trees growing in this area – bamboo and Japanese cedar.  Crows jumped around, cackling madly and dropping berries down on people from time to time.  We walked around in the forest for awhile and then found our way back to the main path to continue up the mountain.  We startled an old couple who were carefully making their way down the path and we watched, horrified, as otoosan (the old man) lost his footing and slowly keeled over onto his side.  First one walking stick missed it’s mark, then the other, and he buckled over with agonizing slowness into the soft earth.  He was fine, but embarassed, and we tried to go by them as quietly as possible so as not to increase his discomfort.  His wife talked to us a little bit and asked us if it was our first time here and if we thought it was beautiful.  We said it was great and she said yes and that she and her husband come here often.  That’s something I noticed on this mountain – most of the people climbing it were really old.  I’m impressed by how physically fit the older generation is here in Japan.  This was a really steep mountain and I’m feeling really tired after spending the day hiking it.  Anyway, we continued up the trail and stopped for a picnic lunch at an incredible viewpoint over the Kyoto valley.  I loved watching the shinkansen glide along way off in the distance on its way to Kyoto Station.

After lunch, we completed the main loop on top of the mountain and came back down a different way.  We passed an area where people lived in small, historic houses along the side of the path and made their living from the tourist trade.  There were tons of cats there getting into all sorts of mischief in the bushes or behind fox statues.  We walked around a neighborhood for awhile that was open and spacious, where larger houses had even larger yards.  It felt good to be so close to Kyoto yet to feel like we were out in the country.  I’m not sure if this was a rich neighborhood or what but it was very open.  We passed some more small shrines and walked by a small rice paddy next to another huge bamboo grove.  After walking along a small path through the forest again we came out upon Tofukuji Temple.  Tofukuji Temple is huge and has a really interesting building that consists of a second story viewing area way up high in the air on huge wooden columns.  The grounds also include a couple of really fancy old pedestrian bridges crossing a river and it was quite picturesque.  After that we sat around in the train station for a really long time waiting for an express train to come.  This was a really great way to end our Kyoto adventures.  Overall it was a great experience and it felt so good to be in nature again.  Cities can actually look quite beautiful when you’re not in them.

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