Up bright and early and getting ready to meet Eric Cooper and tour the Ishiyama Temple outside of Kyoto. Lady Murasaki Shikibu began writing The Tale of Genji, the world’s first novel, at Ishiyamadera. We tried to get in to see this temple five years ago but the main halls were closed to the public, probably for repairs. This time for sure!
I have an early lunch at the corner “kippu” noodle place: an order of beef bowl and udon noodles in spicy soup combo, and for only Y540! Ticket machine restaurants are a god send for tourists and restaurant proprietors alike because we don’t have to listen to each other mangle each other’s languages. Oh man that was some of the best food I’ve had in Japan… soooo good!
Picked up the number 17 bus bound for Kyoto Eki-mae. This is my first time experience with the City Bus so I just pay the Y220 for a one way trip. The hotel provided me with a very informative bus map, so I should be ok.
Arrive at Kyoto Station with no problems and begin by scoping my destination station, line, timetable and ticket cost. This is all standard JR ticketing procedure so no problems. I have tons of time to kill, so I head downstairs to (where else) the gift shop and book store. Found a wonderful box set of Wagashi sweets made from green tea and azuka bean paste filling as a gift for Eric and his wife.
Purchased my ticket, followed the signs to the proper platform and now waiting for the train. This is usually overwhelming to first-timers in Japan but once you get a sense of the order and logic behind how JR works, it becomes much easier.[ First-Time Travelers Tip: Always verify that you taking the correct train line and that it actually stops at your destination, many trains do not stop at all stations on the line. Also know the names of the stations before and after yours that way you can be ready to bolt off the train or panic when you’ve passed it! ]
My train arrives and boy is this thing a wonderful throwback to the 1950’s. A sleek Shinkansen it is not, and to tell you the truth I like it that way.
My train arrives at Minami-Kusatsu, a small town with a small rail station. I’ve built plenty of time for mistakes into my trip so I’m early by a full hour and there isn’t much to do but wait. I buy a Match from the news stand and settle in for some quality boredom and people watching with my camera.
I’m now so bored, I wish I had bought a book at the huge Japanese book store in Kyoto Station. I couldn’t read it but at least I could look at the pictures.
I watch as families come and go, students, businessmen, a few tourists. Japan’s population is indeed aging, so many old people hobbling about looking much like my mother in her old age. Some with families, most alone but very independent.
Eric, my friend who teaches at Ritzumeikan Daigaku arrives with her daughter in tow and we head off by car to the Ishiyama Temple. I recommend the small but significant Murasaki Museum at the top of the hill where you can view (but not photograph) haiku and illustrations by the great haiku poet Basho, and Edo period renderings of Lady Murasaki’s The Tale of Genji. We’re basically looking at Edo period comic books, collectable cards and manga. Some of these items include illustrated Tale of Genji folding screens, an illustrated folding book, poem cards (the collectable trading cards of their day), and a gorgeous maki-e laquer writing desk.
The wind is rustling in the trees and creating lovely patterns of light. Sunlight, now getting low at this time of the day, streams across the temple grounds. We descend the mountain passed the temple, a torrii gate, pagodas, stone lanterns, and down to the koi pond and main path to the temple gates, imposing and beautiful in the golden, late afternoon sun. We pass a garden which I recall from the visit five years ago as well as the local post office where Eric had to mail a letter.