Hikari Express to Kyoto

Millennium Magazine: "Japan" on Cover

Millennium Magazine: “Japan” on Cover

For more of my photographs from Kyoto, please check out the October 2014 issue of Millennium Magazine.

Text and Photos by Kimberly Cecchini

There was something romantic about how the heavy rain beat down on the pavement and filled the intimate street with its cadence. Soaked and lost in Kyoto, I felt as though I had been etched into the composition of a Japanese woodblock.

It was a typically humid summer day, but my husband and I still wanted to explore the neighborhood on foot from the city’s central station to the hotel. Being that street signs can be a bit of a novelty in Japan, we ended up not just learning about Kyoto through it streets, but also, through its people.

A light rain started to fall while my husband consulted the map again, so we pulled our luggage under an awning. Having memorized about three more Japanese phrases than him, I decided to venture a few blocks ahead of him to ask a pedestrian about the hotel. Then, in the span of two blocks, the cooling shower turned into a gushing thunderstorm. Sprinting back through the blinding rain, I returned to find my husband steadying a ladder for an employee under the awning of what turned out to be a kimono manufacturing company.

We made fumbling introductions with the handful of staff members that had gathered in the doorway and, noticing my drenched figure, a matronly woman offered me a hand towel. Through gestures and our limited overlap of languages, I accepted her invitation to take off my sneakers and retrieve fresh clothing from my suitcase. She led me to the back of the office where she laid out two sets of slippers and then downstairs to a locker room.

Dry and grateful, I rejoined the men in looking outside at the relentless rain. The taxi services were inundated, so we were even more thankful when our unexpected hosts kindly insisted on driving us to our hotel and passing on an extra umbrella as a “souvenir”.

The Monterey Hotel turned out to be on a bustling metropolitan avenue, and we laughed when we saw how close it was to the subway station. After bows of gratification and exchanging emails with the young men who drove us, an attentive staff welcomed us into the richly decorated lobby.

Kamo River

Kamo River

The graciousness we encountered during the storm was evident throughout our stay in Kyoto. Although we enjoyed the elegantly presented tapas styled meal where we traded our shoes for a pair of slippers and a balcony view of the Kamo River, it was in the unassuming establishments on Rokkaku Dori that we truly felt welcomed. Later that evening, a couple of local high school teachers engaged us in conversation at a sidewalk bar on the road. We shared impressions of Japan and United States over shochu and beer and they picked up another round just to prolong our chat. We lingered over our meal at the mom and pop grill where the women bridged the language gap with spirit and laughter while preparing mochi filled “pancakes” and noodles in front of us.

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Kiyomizu-dera

Prayer Plaques

Prayer Plaques

On a suggestion from the Osakan teachers, we visited the Kiyomizu-dera temple. The World Heritage sites’s colorfully ornate buildings and wealth of wooden prayer plaques were stunning against the lush mountain backdrop, but I favored the much more personal experience I shared at the Shunkoin Temple. A view of the meticulously maintained gardens, through the expansive windows, set the mood as the young Zen minister compassionately guided us through a practical group meditation session. Afterwards, the reverend shared the temples multi-denominational history and gave us a tour of its colorfully painted gold leaf screens and altar. He allowed us time to meander around the space and answered our questions. Over jade colored cups of traditional maccha tea, my fellow travelers and I exchanged stories of our amiable experiences in the ancient capital.

Three days after the afternoon rain, it was time to pick up bento boxes for the two and a half hour ride on the Hikari express train out of Kyoto station.  We were anticipating the opportunity to savor the end of our Japanese holiday through a last whirl around Tokyo, but we would miss the accessibility of this cozier metropolis.

Shinkoin Temple

Shunkoin Temple

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