My second day was about to be even more exciting than the first. I was going on a private tour to see all of the sights I’d been staring at in pictures for months in person. I couldn’t even sleep being that I was so darn excited. My adventure in Kyoto was off to a great start and I knew that it would have an even more spectacular ending.
I have to start off with giving a huge thanks to one of my dance mamas, Mama Erin. She was actually one of the first people I told about my trip to Japan and she was so supportive. She just happened to know someone who lived in Kyoto. (This is how my God works) A very good friend of hers had a son who has lived in Kyoto for over seven years and he does tours of the city! She connected us in email and the rest was history! (Thank you so much Mama Erin!)
I met Andrew at the lobby of my hotel and he made my day more special than I could’ve imagined. Andrew has a burning passion for Japanese garden landscaping and architecture. He moved here following his passion to learn within his craft. Since moving to Kyoto, he met and married his beautiful wife and had the most beautiful daughter. He works in Japanese gardens everyday, helping to upkeep their layout and also design their infrastructure. It’s so wonderful seeing someone talk about what they love and I got to listen to Andrew tell me about Japanese culture all day.
We made our way to the area of Kyoto called Arashiyama, which translates to to the Stormy Mountains. The entire area is surrounded by these huge mountains that create the most beautiful and unreal backdrop. I couldn’t believe my eyes and the fact that people lived here. I mean, I couldn’t imagine waking up to such beautiful views every morning. We walked through the streets of the neighborhood, and made our way to our first stop, the Tenryu-Ji Temple which was established in 1339. This temple has one of the oldest gardens in Japan, setting the sketch for other Japanese gardens to follow. As I sat with Andrew, he told me about the intricacies of the design of the garden. In short, everything from the shape of the pond, to the angle in which the trees are trimmed, to the placement of the rocks, and arcs of the flowers, every part of the garden is thoroughly thought through. This attention to detail serves the purpose of making the garden as beautiful as humanly possible, so that it would resemble heaven. This would be allow the monks and shoguns to pray in the most pure setting. The pictures speak for themselves, but don’t even do the view justice.
We walked through the gardens to see the most beautiful views of Kyoto and the Arashiyama mountains. We walked through the path and stumbled upon the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest! Oh my goodness… This was one of the sights I’ve seen over and over in pictures and strared at for hours in excitement only to realize that it was way more breathtaking in person. The forest is filled with bamboo towering over you creating the most beautiful canopy. I mean my goodness, we live in such a beautiful world. And even though this world can be complicated, there are some places where everything just seems so simple. This was one of those places.
After Arashiyama, we ventured to this little food spot that Andrew has taken a lot of his tours before, and that food was delicious! I had what I would like to call the most delicious and fresh fried fish I’ve had in a long time. Andrew described this restaurant as “grandma’s cooking” and he was right. It was great. Throughout this entire time, Andrew and I got to talk about so many things from this family, us both growing up in Columbia, MD, and everything in between. He really is a gem.
We made our way to the RyoanJi Temple which has the famous Rock Garden. This garden was only comprised of small pebbles and 15 large rocks. But the catch is, you can’t see all 15 rocks from wherever you sit. No matter at what angle you view the garden, you can’t see all 15. It was said that you could only see the 15 pebbles if you reached enlightenment. Andrew and I talked about how that idea could be a metaphor for life and all of our thoughts in staring at this extremely bare but also full garden. It was lovely.
We then walked some more, got some bubble tea and sweet ice, and made our way to the Rokuon-Ji Temple which houses the Golden Pavilion! Yes, it’s an entire house completely painted and coated in real gold. It was so stunning and regal.
There was one moment I found to be so special! While on the way back to Gion, we took a cab to save time and met this wonderful cab driver who had been collecting money from all around the world! He said he started it about 8 years a go and always asks his customers where they are from to see if he has their country's currency in his collection. He had $1 US dollar bills from 46 out of 50 states! And could tell us which 4 states he was missing. Then he pulls out his stash from different countries all around the globe. As soon as I thought " I wish I had a Bahamian dollar bill to give him" he rolls through his stash to show me this $1 Bahamian Bill!!! My island roots follow me everywhere, even all the way to the Japan. I just thought it was so cute and so very special.
We made our way back to Gion and we walked through the bustling crowd that was starting to grow From the Gion Matsuri, the festival I mentioned in the previous blog post. We walked through the Kyoto market which had SO MUCH FOOD. Everything from fish, to veggies, sake, wines, chicken, ramen, souvenirs… I then found myself staring at this dish that was being served, a boiled octopus with a boiled egg inside of the head. IT LOOKED DISGUSTING, so obviously I had to taste it. That's what life's all about, being adventurous and trying new things. It was as gross as it looked, but hey, I tried it and learned that I don’t like pickled, boiled octopus with a boiled egg inside. Oh Well!
Andrew and I continued to walk around downtown Gion admiring and tasting all of the food vendors that were lined up along the street. By this point, the street had been blocked off so that no cars could pass, and thousands of people were walking along enjoying themselves. I really couldn't believe that I was catching something so special that only happens once every year. After walking around for another hour, it was time for Andrew to go back home. I couldn’t have thanked him enough for the most wonderful day. I wouldn't have seen or learned all of those great things without him. I walked around a little but longer and saw this group of young women all dressed in pink at the Kyoto Pink Ribbon Stand. They were a breast cancer support group stationed in Kyoto. I immediately stopped to talk to them as so many women in my family have been affected by breast cancer, including my grandmother. I told them all about her and they loved hearing her story. I bought a couple of their pins to donate to their group and took a picture to share!
After Andrew left, I realized that I was still a little hungry and needed to go some more food, so what better place than the cool trendy bar I stumbled upon the night before, FORUM! Before getting to Forum, I walked pass the man who made me the sweet ice the night before, and he screamed out of excitement when he saw me! He kept on saying “You came back, you came back!” I don’t think I have ever felt that loved and welcomed by a stranger in my life. He made his boss come outside to meet me and he insisted that we take another picture of all three of us. He made me my sweet ice and gave it to me for free, just as he promised the night before. I gave him a huge hug and told him thank you for making my time here so special. I told him I was going back to Tokyo the next day, but if I’m ever in Kyoto again, I would come back to see him! UGGHH, my heart was so full.
I walked into FORUM and say Alexandre and the bartender from the night before, both so excited to see me and welcomed me right in. I sat there and ate, and talked to Alexandre for hours about life, art, culture, Tokyo, NYC, etc… That's the beautiful thing about being an artist. You automatically connect with artists from all walks of life just on the common fact on loving your artform from the inside out. You instantly understand so much about the other. It was truly an amazing conversation and a moment I will always hold dearly. Alexandre said he was hoping on opening a FORUM in New York City, and I promised him that I would be his first customer! I walked back to my room fell asleep literally in 5 minutes. I had the most exhausting but insightful day ever. My mind was spinning from all of the things I’d seen and all of the stories Andrew had told me. The day was concluded with welcoming hugs and delicious wine. I was so overwhelmed with gratitude.
The next morning I woke up early to see my last shrine I had been dying to see while in Kyoto, the Fushimi Inari Shrine. I think I was most excited about this one. I once again had seen it in pictures and in movies such as Memoirs of a Geisha and had to have my moment of being tucked away within those bright orange gates secluded in Mt. Inari. I WAS BLOWN AWAY. I walked up the shrine and was just in awe of its quiet power. It stood tall and elegant, competing with the beautiful mountains behind it. I made my way up the hills through the gates just taking it all in. I don’t think there will ever be words to describe that moment of being tucked away within all of that history. And what would be make this moment even more special… I make my way through the first set of the orange gates, look up, and see ANDREW!!! He was at the shrine for a meeting and I was so excited to see him! We hugged one last night and went our separate ways.
I continued walking up Mt. Inari breathing in the fresh air and looking at my beautiful surroundings. THERE ARE STILL NO WORDS.
I went back to my hotel, got my bags, and headed on the bullet train back to Tokyo with so much new found knowledge and inspiration. There are those moments in life where you finally get time to reflect, and that weekend was one of those special moments. All I could do is give thanks. God is so good and has created this beautiful world meant to be seen by everyone. I met some amazing people, saw some of the most beautiful gardens, and was so engulfed in a new world all while walking on the historic streets of Kyoto.
This weekend was short and one of the best I’ve ever had in my life. Sometimes, I can’t believe that little ole Courtney gets to have these experiences. God has a way of giving us more than we asked for and I’m so glad that He did in this situation. This mini vacation to Kyoto exceeded my wildest expectations and I will never forget it.