The Fellowship of the Ring of Fire, Part 13: Kyoto
When planning for our big summer trip, we debated between Japan and Australia. We decided on Australia because it was bigger, we could catch other countries like New Zealand, and it didn't have a potentially dangerous amount of radiation. But we found a budget airline that would take us around. I then discovered that we could fly from Australia to Tokyo for as little as $225. So we went.
We arrived in Tokyo, but we planned to go straight to Kyoto. Kyoto is a 3.5 hour ride on the Shinkansen (bullet train). These trains are the best I've ever been on, and they're not even that new. The oldest train was built almost 50 years ago. They're smooth as silk, super fast, and there's so much legroom!
If Tokyo is the modern capital of Japan, Kyoto is the traditional capital. This is where a lot of temples and shrines have been preserved. We saw about 15 temples, and that's a very small fraction of how many there are. The ones we saw are just the touristy ones. They're still active too. We saw monks training, chanting, and blessing visitors.
We saw several different rock gardens. Rock gardens are just pebbles raked into simple patterns like stripes with bigger rocks that are strategically placed. Training monks rake them without using any tool besides the rake itself. So when you see a very long rock garden with such straight lines, you appreciate how skilled and patient you would have to be to do it. Also, it's very mystical how one chooses to place the bigger rocks. Something so abstract seems to express that person's deep spirituality. One of the gardens we saw was made by someone who never explained his placement, so you are invited to just sit and ponder what it means for yourself.
One of my favorite spots was Tetsugaku no michi (the path of philosophy). It was named for a famous professor in the 1900s who used to walk the path often lost in thought. You can see why. It's a very simple, peaceful, and beautiful route. It follows a canal with the sounds of smooth, flowing water. Cherry blossoms line the path as well, so in the right season, it's even prettier.