“traffic signs and lonesome bars”

2/28/12 – 19:55

So what do you do when you’re tired of exploring the local urban areas? You head out into the boonies of course. I took a lazy Sunday and decided to head out into the cold because I haven’t gone into the middle of nowhere in a while.

The village of 鞍馬, or Kurama, is nestled in the rural mountainous area north of Kyoto city proper. It has one road, a couple of temples, and a hot spring that looks out over the forested valley. Seclusion and natural awesomesauce? Sign me up. [And Marissa too.]

Because the majority of Japan is covered in ridiculo-mountains, it shouldn’t surprise me that less than 30 minutes by train out of any given major city is sparsely inhabited forest or plains. It gets me every time though. Looking out the window at the tightly packed buildings gave way to cookie-cutter apartment suburbs, and then trees. So many trees. Accompanied by snow flurries here and there.

We got off one station early and side-tripped to the neighboring town of 貴船, Kibune, which has a fancy schmancy temple with just short of ONE MILLION [just kidding] lanterns lining the steps up to the 本殿. Despite being the year of the dragon, the two towns seem to have some connection to horses because they were pretty much everywhere. Fake representations of course, although I wouldn’t be surprised if a real horse just popped up out of nowhere. Or a centaur even. The forest was really surreal like that.

The temple also had a special kind of fortune telling called 水占い which was basically the regular paper fortune telling except they wrote the fortunes in invisible ink and you had to dip it into the sacred spring [or any pool of water, really] and your fortune would show itself. It was a cool gimmick but they upped the prices on the fortune so I didn’t do it. Instead, I sat back and took pictures of people looking at their future. And then just now I had a little fun with light and saturation editing! :D

Afterwards, we started up the mountain. It definitely wasn’t as bad as Mt. Koya or Mt. Hiei. It certainly felt like Buddhist stairmaster hell, but that never changes, lol. It was, however, super cold and I was only wearing a single sweater. That, coupled with the snow falling through the trees [they were actually cedars, so I just kept referencing the movie Snow Falling on Cedars, which is incidentally about Japanese people]. I really like the sound of rain falling on plants. It reminds me of Florida or the Philippines. But I don’t mind the sound of snow falling on trees at all. It’s softer than raindrops and I swear I could have just laid down in the middle of the forest path and took a nap if it weren’t 0 degrees/covered in petrified cedar roots.

At the top of Mt. Kurama is the actual temple complex of 鞍馬寺. It wasn’t anything really spectacular. I’ve seen temples before and that probably means you’ve seen temples before because I post pics of them anyway. The only really awesome point that this one had was that because it was on top of a mountain, it had a great view of the surrounding valleys and other mountains. Again, shouldn’t have been surprised, but was surprised anyway at how isolated this place is.

The climb down was so much easier and it ended spectacularly. There were cheap souvenirs, food, and the one-road-town of Kurama.

We weren’t too sure where to eat, but at the one place we chose, the kill-ya-with-kindness hostess waved us in and had us sit down in the heated [ohmygodthankthelord] zashiki style room, which basically just means that you sit down on the floor. It cost less than 3 dollars for an onigiri made with mountain greens and another sizable inari-zushi. The free tea warmed us up and we were the only ones in the restaurant making it seem really calm. The slightly faded wall hangings and the antique looking wall scrolls hanging in the alcove gave it a sort of lost-in-time atmosphere. And I guess that’s what Kurama is. It’s a village steeped in tradition that tries to welcome in the outside world without being swallowed by it entirely.

The last stop was the 温泉 or hot spring that Kurama is noted for. It was a simple affair to get in and it was a fairly no-nonsense establishment. You put all your clothes in a locker, shower and get clean outside of the bath, and only then are you allowed to soak. The steam rose up from the pool, past the thatched roof covered with a thin layer of green moss and other plant material [kind of like the rest of the surroundings] and disappeared into a sky getting steadily more gray. And from that sky came a slow and steady sprinkle of light snow. It was the greatest. Soaking in the warm tub while the snow fell on everything around you. I wish I could have taken a photo but you can guess why that would have been a little bit of a no-no. Hah.

Oh and btw, Kurama is also famous for 天狗, tengu, which are mountain ogres that have Pinocchio syndrome minus the whole lying thing. [They’re on the right track, baby] They’re just born that way.


And now we have the miscellany:

– On the bathhouses, they usually have the character 湯 which means “hot water” in Japanese. However, this character in Chinese I think is used to mean “soup.” Er. Welcome to the soup house.

–  Andrea and Tina hosted a Mardi Gras party for… Mardi Gras. They made gumbo and curry shrimp with the stuff they found at the local Costco that just opened up. There was also a valiant attempt at a King’s Cake and then there was ring of fire and a little bit of beer. All in all a great first celebration of Mardi Gras. Everything was dericious and it sated my craving somewhat for some American food. Speaking of which, I’ve been having ridiculous cravings for like Sonic. Or Chipotle. Mostly Chipotle, though. ON THE BORDER. PANERA BREAD. SWEET DREAMS / BLUE BELL ICE CREAM. PUBLIX POTATO SALAD. FAKE ASIAN FOOD. STEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAKKKKKKKKK. ;_; My life.

-For Julia’s birthday, she wanted to go to this fancy wine bar down by Hirakata Station. We went and we split a liter of the house wine between the two of us and we ate “hashed potatoes” [=tater tots] and some nice pastries. It was super classy and I got just drunk enough and had a lot of fun. I know it was Julia’s birthday and all, but looking on it afterwards, it was kind of like “… Crap, am I growing up?” って感じ。

2 Responses to ““traffic signs and lonesome bars””
  1. Anonymous says:

    Get a kobe-beef steak! It’s supposedly the best beef in EVAR, and only available in Japan. So DOIT. – Fungleen

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