Kyoto #3

January 2, 2007

Christmas Day. I awoke to people singing Christmas Carols in two part harmony. It probably would have upset me if the singing hadn’t been so good, and it was oddly comforting since it was my first Christmas here. I was the last person in the hostel to get up since I stayed out so late the night before, so by time I left, the place was nearly empty. I rented a bike and headed to Northwest Kyoto to Kitano Tenman-gu, a temple which holds a large open air market on the 25th of every month. My guidebook mentioned that it was particularly colorful in December and January, so I thought I’d give it a gander. On the way there I passed through the Imperial Palace grounds and stopped in for a delicious bowl of udon. The ride was really quite longer than I expected and took close to an hour to do. When I arrived I was amazed at the number of people there. The temple grounds were maybe two or three city blocks in size, and aside from the actual temple courtyard the whole area was packed with vendors and throngs of people which extended into the streets at the edges of the wooded grounds. There were quite a few food vendors, but it really felt like a large flea market. The quality of merchandise varied from junk to high dollar (or rather high yen) antiques. I spent several hours here poking around and people watching, and when I left in the mid afternoon I just pointed myself in the right direction and wandered back to the hostel through the heart of Kyoto.

One of my motivations for coming to Kyoto was to attend a couple of Aikido classes with Yoko Okamoto Sensei, who is one of the top female Aikido instructors in the world. She established Portland Aikikai where I last trained in the States. Today’s class was to be held in Tambambashi, a residential district in southern Kyoto. Before going there I visited a large shrine complex called Fushimi-Inari Taisha since it was just a couple of stops north of where the class was. The shrine has been around since the 8th century and is dedicated to Inari, the god of cereal grains. The fox is Inari’s messenger, and there are probably thousands of stone foxes here. The temple is best known for its iconic path of hundreds of consecutive torii gates, which stretches for some four kilometers (I’m trusting the Lonely planet guide that that number is accurate). I spent a little over an hour exploring the grounds before it got too dark to continue. The place was a little creepy in the diminishing light with the graves, shrines and myriad foxes staring menacingly at me from every corner. Supposedly there are monkeys here that prove to be a real menace, but today they were nowhere to be seen.

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By time I arrived in Tambambashi it was completely dark and I had to rely on my memory of a bad map in Japanese to find the place since I’d forgotten to bring the directions with me. I was really worried for a bit that I wouldn’t be able to find it, but luck was on my side and I didn’t make any wrong turns. I arrived early and got to see a good portion of the kids class, during which they had a sumo match! They almost convinced the instructors to sumo wrestle, but they backed out at the last second. The class was I participated in was really great, and there were about as many foreigners in the class as there were Japanese. I’ve been doing a different style of Aikido in Nakamura that’s more rigid and based on kata, so it was really fantastic to get to practice the fluid Aikikai style with such great Aikidoists. After the class I returned to the hostel and took it easy for the rest of the night, chatting and playing cards with the other guests.
Here’s a video from the kids’ class:

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