Day 3 - Hiking
written by Scott

We got up soooo late this morning-- 10 AM. That got me antsy, but we were up so late last night that even I couldn't begrudge us that much. Once we were out in the day, we could see the extent to which it was a national holiday... the stores that were open were completely random . Whether or not a shop was open seemed completely dependent on the whim of the owner-- not, particularly, whether that store carried anything people might need on New Years Day. So a convenience store might be closed while the high-end bakery down the street might be making a killing. The tiny manga store on the corner? Also open, but bicycle rental or internet cafés? Not so much.

So we had pancakes for breakfast in Kyoto Station and decided to take a long hike since it didn't involve anything being open or not. We jumped a bus up to Ginkaku-ji and slowly hiked up to the top of the dai figure. The trail was slippery (especially for ill-prepared me with my non-stick Merrills).

We chose well-- the day was beautiful and we got to hang out in the late afternoon sun at the top of the dai. The dai is the largest of five kanji set into the sides of hills around Kyoto; during the Daimonji Gozan Okuribi festival the figures are set ablaze to guide the spirits of the dead home to the city. It's a popular hiking spot for tourists and for locals, who use the peak for their version of 'old man exercises'. There's nothing to make you feel like a gross American than slipping and sliding slowly up a small mountain only to find that you've been lapped by a sixty-year old man. Another humbling aspect of that hike was the quietude of Kyoto. About halfway through our time at the top a fire broke out in the southeastern corner of Kyoto. We noticed the silence of the city only when the fire engines headed to the fire came up to us as the only street noise we'd heard on the hike. We tried a few other ways down from the other legs of the dai, but had no luck with the minimal daylight left. We headed back down and used the excuse to visit the Ginkakuji Shrine we'd seen on the way up. The still evening in the shrine's courtyard was lit only by the lanterns hanging from the temple eaves, and I couldn't speak above a whisper.

Back in town we did two circuits of Teramachi and caught some conveyor belt sushi. We picked up some j-pop in a store and I got my first brush with paying by credit card in Japan. There's a ritual of looking at the charge, laying your card (with two hands) on a plate handed to you; the cashier rings it up and hands it back to you with two hands; each of you thanks the other five or six times before you go. And then, on our way out, the security guard did us the favor of checking our CDs to make sure we hadn't shoplifted. Everything is done with a courtesy that I found strange-- the tone of the transaction with the security guards really made it seem like they were doing us a favor, helping us make sure that we hadn't accidentally done anything wrong like stealing from them. And there was no irony or sarcasm in the exchange-- they seemed to mean it that way.

Somehow my notes for the walk back to the hotel include a comment about a "Free Pass from the Land of No Pants." I have no idea what that meant. If you can figure it out, please tell me. It must have been the fatigue-- once again we closed out the day with the lines "Crashed. So Tired."

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