This past week Japan had a super rare week-long holiday called Silver Week. Many may be familiar with Japan’s spring holiday, Golden Week, but Silver week is a relatively new holiday. It only happens every five years or so, when three regular fall holidays line up just right and allow for Monday-Wednesday off of work. Lucky me, I happened to arrive in Japan just in time for Silver Week!
Because of the rarity of this holiday, many people didn’t even know it was coming up. A number of JETs in the area tossed around ideas for a trip, but when the time came to commit to these ideas, prices were high and hotels were filling up. I happened to call my friend Annin, who is entering her second year on JET, and asked her what she was up to. She had no plans, so I quickly bought a plane ticket to visit her. It all happened rather fast and with very little planning on my part, but ended up being really fun.
Annin lives in Hyogo Prefecture, which neighbors Osaka. Once again I had great luck, a direct flight from Miyazaki to Osaka had just started service at the beginning of the month, and I was able to snag a ticket. So after work on Friday I raced to the train station and made my way to Miyazaki Airport. A quick note about flying domestically in Japan – it’s the best! By far the easiest, most painless security I’ve ever gone through. I don’t think I ever showed my ID, shoes stayed on through security and there were no restrictions on liquids. I was a bit shocked, but I certainly won’t complain!
I arrived in Osaka on Friday night and stayed in the “Osaka Guest House Drummer’s Dream,” which was both inexpensive and close to a train station. It turned out to be a super cute old-style house with only three guests and a very friendly host. I would recommend it for anyone (well, any hostel-goers), though it is a bit out of the way. In any case, the next day, after several confusing train connections, I met up with Annin and we made our way to Kyoto.
After dropping our stuff of at her friend’s hostel, our first stop in Kyoto was the famous Kinkaku-ji, or Golden Pavilion.
I swear the photos don’t do it justice – this thing shines like you wouldn’t believe. The top two floors are covered in gold leaf, and it’s absolutely stunning.
After wandering around the gardens and picking up a few o-mamori (talismans sold at temples and shrines around Japan) we left Kinkaku-ji and made our way to destination number two: Ryouan-ji.
I’d never heard of Ryouan-ji, but it’s one of the more famous temples in Kyoto, and is known for it’s rock garden. In fact, it’s widely considered the finest example of a dry garden in Japan.
As Annin explained (and google confirmed) the garden has fifteen stones of varying sizes placed within the garden, surrounded by gravel. It’s meant to be seen while sitting on the steps to the temple, where you can sit and contemplate life and whatnot. The trick of the garden is that at a glance, you think all of the stones are visible, but in fact you can never see all fifteen stones at once from any vantage point. I looked from a few different spots but always counted 14 stones. We decided this must be a metaphor for life, and how you can never really know everything, no matter how hard you try. It’s said that all of the stones are visible if you achieve enlightenment.
By the time we left Ryouan-ji (which means peaceful dragon temple) it was almost 5, and all of the temples were closing. So we headed back to the hostel for a quick nap and some food before going out with a few of the hostel employees for drinks. We went out to an Izakaya, or traditional Japanese bar w/ cheap food and drinks, and spent a few hours drinking with a university group from Portugal and the hostel staff. Everyone was really nice, and it was a great chance for me to practice my Japanese listening skills. At the end of the night some people went out to a club, but Annin and I decided to call it a night and hit the hay.
When I sat down to write this post I ended up with entirely too much information for a single post, so stay tuned for part 2 🙂