Japan – Day 5 (Dogs and Monkeys and Cats)

Cats dig fries

Cats have a way of turning up in the strangest places in this country, and wonderfully puzzling things have a way of happening with no warning. It’s just part of the deal, being a gaijin in Japan.

Today was a mix of the old and new. I visited Koryu-ji, one of the oldest temples in Japan, founded bu Prince Shotoku, one of the fathers of Japanese Buddhism. The temple is in Uzamasa, along a quaint tram route West of Kyoto downtown. While the grounds themselves are modestly impressive – their main hall is the oldest building in Kyoto proper, built in 1185 – the real star is the artwork. They have a stupendous collection of treasures, some of which date back to the 7th Century of perhaps even earlier. Their prize is a wooden statue of Miroku Botatsu as a boy, half-smiling as he contemplates his future as a Buddha. It’s a beloved image across image and was the first item designated a national treasure by Japan. Sorry, no pictures.

Koryu-ji, Main Hall
Me and a cousin
After, Arashiyama, the lgendary hamlet on a mountain West of the city. While the sakura were disappointingly not in full bloom here yet, it was still a gorgeous place. I visited the monkey park above the town and took a long stroll through temples, tea houses and bamboo groves. Arashayama has been the inspiration to poets and artists of Kyoto for a thousand years, and their fingerprints are everywhere in the form of villas, patron temples and haiku. After that I briefly returned to Fushimi Inari Shrine, one of the coolest places on Earth. While walking through the thousands of torii that don the mountainside, I came upon another pack of cats. I can’t call these feral, because they’re quite tame – but I don’t know if they’re free range or have owners, or perhaps belong to the sites themselves. As I pointed out last year cats do dig shrines. One of them followed me for a bit, meowing, and I was quite worried for the poor neko. Just then, out of nowhere, a man pulled up on a bicycle delivering the local newspaper. The cat showed up, the man said something I didn’t understand, them reached into a bag and pulled out a handful of cat food. This is a great country.
Torii and Sakura at Fushimi Inari

At this point, I suppose, I wanted a little taste of big city Japan – I’ve missed my Tokyo fix. So I decided to end my stay in Hanshin with a return to Osaka, this time to visit the well-known Namba nightlife area. I hate to keep waxing poetic about the Shinkansen, but it really bears repeating how amazing it is. At the end of the night, I had to take a subway one stop to transfer, then take another subway six stops to Shin-Osaka Shinkansen station. Then, the 40 miles back to Kyoto. How long did all that take? 35 minutes from the time I stepped onto the first subway car, transfers included. Just how amazing is that, really?

Those of you who aren’t anime and manga folk can stop reading, because it’s about to get very dull for you. Truth be told the main reason I went to Osaka was to go to “Den Den Town” – their version of Akihabara. I wanted an otaku fix, I wanted to see how it stacked up, and was just generally curious. It was surprisingly almost as big as Akiba in terms of character goods – all the major players are there, though ironically I never did find Mandarake, the one store I’d intended to visit. On the whole, there are even fewer decent places to eat than Akiba, not as many maid cafes (though Mandarake has a “Mom Cafe”, apparently) and Den Den seems a trifle more otomen-focused than Akiba.
Bought a doujin at Melonbooks, which impressed me – is there one in Akiba? Not saying which ones – that’s no on else’s beeswax. Though I did – joy of joys – get carded buying it! Saw tons of Oreimo stuff, which I expected. Two words: Kuroneko hoodie! It was more evenly split overall between Kirino and Kuroneko than I thought it might be, though. If this show doesn’t get a second season no one will be more surprised than me. Lots of Ikas Musume doujins too, which surprised me a bit – though not as much as the seemingly popular pairing, which I won’t say here because I don’t think most of you will like it. Mitsudomoe body pillows at Cospa, but no t-shirts, dammit.
I have no idea what Kirino and Kuroneko are saying, but they look pissed.
Finally, I made my first really successful joke in Japanese today. At the Daily Yamazaki store outside Fushimi Inari I bought a chicken cutlet. I pointed to it and said, “Tori?” and the pointed across the street and said “Not torii.” The salesgirl laughed hysterically…
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